Summary: Be a devoted disciple who does good deeds and helps the hurting.
God Uses Ordinary People: Tabitha
Rev. Brian Bill
Believe it or not, I just recently learned what the three letters AKA stand for – “Also Known As.” Famous people often take on different names. Here are a few I came across this week.
* Chevy Chase is really Cornelius Crane Chase
* David Copperfield’s real name is David Kotkin
* Alice Cooper is Vincent Damon Furneir
* Larry King is Lawrence Harvey Zeiger
* Gloria Estefan is Gloria Fajardo
* Whoopi Goldberg is really Caryn Johnson
Because I have three first names, people often don’t know what to call me. Is it Brian? Or is it John? Or is it Bill? Sometimes I’ve wished for a longer last name but it’s kind of grown on me. I like to say that when you say my name three guys come running.
In our continuing emphasis on the ordinary people God uses, I want to introduce you today to a woman with three names. She’s known as Tabitha, AKA Dorcas Gazelle. Please turn to Acts 9:36: “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.”
Actually Tabitha is her Aramaic name and Dorcas is her name in Greek. Both of these names mean gazelle. It was common practice back then to give an animal nickname to a beautiful woman. A gazelle was a creature with stunning eyes and swift feet. While I’ve never had the courage to call Beth a gazelle until this week, she did run away from me swiftly when we first met – I probably shouldn’t have commented on her stunning eyes even before I asked her name. I’m glad she slowed down enough to let me catch her because today is our 23rd Wedding Anniversary! Incidentally, when I asked Beth for permission to share this she smiled and wanted to know what animal name she could call me. She tried out two on me – an antelope or a moose! I hope she chooses the former.
Tabitha lived in Joppa, which is a town in Palestine about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Solomon used this seaport to receive the timber that was used for the building of the Temple and Joppa was the place to which Jonah ran to catch a boat headed to Tarshish.
Interestingly, we don’t know anything Tabitha said but we know a lot about what she did. We have no record of her words but we do know about her work because her life of servanthood spoke loudly. Most commentators think she was a widow or single because there is no mention of any man in her life. By the way, women were accorded special status by Jesus. They accompanied him on his journeys and were financial contributors. Women stayed with him when he hung on the cross and they were the first witnesses of the resurrection. As you read through the New Testament, women were very involved in the global expansion of the church. Just in Romans 16 alone, we read of Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena,Tryphosa and Persia. Of these last three, it says that “they worked hard in the Lord.”
As we look at Tabitha, we can learn three things about her.
1. A devoted disciple. She is known as a disciple, or follower of Jesus. In fact, she’s the only woman in the New Testament explicitly identified as a disciple. That’s pretty amazing when you think that this title was not given to Mary or Martha or Priscilla or any other woman. She stood out as a very faithful follower of Christ. She was so devoted that only the disciple description is used to define her.
A disciple was a learner, a follower and one who was determined to be like his or her teacher. Luke 6:40: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” One of the highest compliments someone could pay you is to say, “You act just like Jesus.” That could be said of Tabitha. We know that she had a heart of compassion just like Christ did in Matthew 9:35-36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
2. Doer of deeds. The needs of people not only moved her; she moved in response to the needs she saw. She served and people knew it was because of her Savior. That’s her identity. She was saved to serve. In fact, a devoted disciple is a doer of good deeds. She was not lazy by any means but was quick to respond when someone needed help. When she saw a need she jumped to meet it! Miss Gazelle was a devoted disciple who used her gifts and abilities to further the kingdom.