Team Unity: Tabitha

Last week, we launched a new message series entitled, “Team Unity.”  In this series, we’re learning that the way in which we conform into the likeness of Christ is not by each of us all looking, acting, and thinking the same, but that rather, the unity that Jesus prayed that we would have comes through our diversity.  

When each of us fulfill our unique and diverse purpose in the body of Christ, we achieve unity, working together as one.  Unity is not achieved through conformity, but rather, it is God’s purpose that we achieve unity through diversity.

This week, we’re going to begin profiling some of the members of the early church to learn about their diverse gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.  We’ll also learn how critical they each were to revealing Jesus to the world.

We see this awesome snapshot of what the early church looked like, and the church that God still desires us to be today.  We see each person doing what they could to work together, selflessly giving of themselves, so that Jesus could continue the work that He started in and through their lives!

Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

This first individual of the church that we’re going to profile is Tabitha, also known as Dorcas.  We find her story here:

Acts 9:36-42
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

There has been much speculation and assumptions made regarding this member of the church.  This morning, however, we’re going to focus not on what is unknown about her, but rather, focus on what the Holy Spirit felt was critical that we know about her which has been recorded.

First of all, we see that she was a disciple of Jesus just like us.  We find that she made quite a profound mark on the lives of those around her through very simple acts of service.  She was always doing good and helping the poor.  One of the specific ways in which she helped the poor was by making clothes for them.

We don’t know how old Tabitha was, we don’t know her social or economic status in life, we don’t know if she was married, we don’t know if she had any family living in Joppa with her.  We do, however, know that she was loved by many; especially a group of widows.  We know that she laid down her own life to help others, doing what she could, to live out her faith.  Even if that was simply by doing good and helping the poor.

Her life reminds me of the words of James:

James 2:14-18
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Indeed, Tabitha didn’t just claim to have faith, she lived out her faith.  Her faith was real and tangible by those around her.  Her faith made a real, deep, meaningful impact on the lives of many widows and poor people who had been neglected and abandoned by so many others.

What about us?  Is our faith one of mere words, or is it a real faith that is proven by our actions?  Are those around us drawn to Jesus because of us?  If we fell ill and died, would the people around us refuse to accept it because they want to see our good works continue?

We also know that Tabitha’s life wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.  We know that Tabitha became sick.  It is one of those situations that just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Why is it that someone who devotes their lives to helping others and lives so selflessly is allowed by God to become sick?  Her strength, and eventually her life itself, was allowed to be stolen away from her.  This is one of those times in life where it becomes difficult to understand how God works.  Why God?  Why would you allow this?

Those who loved Tabitha cared for her in the way in which she cared for them for so long.  They washed her body and took her into the upper room – that quiet place where they would go to hear from God.  As the church was mourning, they heard that Peter was in a nearby town name Lydda.  They immediately sent two men to get him and bring him to Joppa.  They had heard testimonies of the miraculous works that the Holy Spirit had done through Peter and they refused to accept that their loved one was gone.  In Lydda, Peter had healed a man who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years!  They had faith that the Holy Spirit could heal and restore Tabitha!

God didn’t disappoint them, either.  Tabitha was restored and brought back to life!  She was able to continue going on doing good and helping the poor!

God’s plans go far beyond what we can often see.  Tabitha and her friends saw illness and death.  Her friends saw cherished memories and the unfinished work of their lost loved one.  Peter initially only saw death and the grieving of the church and Tabitha’s friends.  However, God saw through the death of this one cherished woman, the spiritual rebirthing of an entire city.  When God raised Tabitha from death to life, it wasn’t only her mortal body that was resurrected!  News about this event spread all throughout Joppa and many put their faith in the Lord – the city was spiritually resurrected from death to life!

What I believe God is challenging us about this morning is this.  Tabitha could sew, Peter could pray.  Because Tabitha and Peter decided to lay down their lives for the cause of Christ, a city was saved.  What can you do for the cause of Christ?  How can you show other people the love of God?  In what way can you apply your faith through your works to help others?

Think about it this way.  Joppa was an important seaport city, a place of trade.  Tabitha could have easily used her talent of making clothes to sell to the many people passing through the city and build up a nice, comfortable life for herself.  She didn’t have to use her skill to continuously provide for people who could give her nothing worldly back in return.

Peter didn’t have to bow to the demands of these two men from Joppa.  Lydda was an 11 mile hike from Joppa.  That’s not a far drive, but a decent walking distance that he would have to make for sure!  After healing the paralyzed man, the Bible says that all of those in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord.  Peter would have had his hands full trying to launch these new churches and to organize and disciple two entire cities full of people.  He had more than enough of a reason to turn these two men away!

What if Tabitha or Peter had made a choice not to lay down their lives for others?  Three cities would have been lost and Tabitha would have died for nothing.  They were both real people with real lives.  They both had responsibilities just like all of us do.  They could have both came up with a whole list of valid excuses not to choose the needs of others over their own needs.

However, since they chose to submit to God, God was able to do the miraculous in and through their lives!  Neither one of them have any regrets about giving their lives for others.  Neither one of them are disappointed that they fulfilled their part of the body of Christ.  Neither one of them consider their sacrifices too great to give hope and make known the love of Jesus to others.  They both have received their rich, rich reward which will last forever!  They see the value found in Jesus and His salvation!

Do we see the priceless value of our salvation?  Or are our eyes still downward on ourselves, counting the cost, wondering if the sacrifice would be worth it?  This morning, what is God asking you to do for Him?  What is it that you are able to do to practically show the love of God to others?  Tabitha sewed, Peter prayed.  How about you?