Study 8 DORCAS: A LADY FULL OF GOOD WORKS
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 8 -11)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 9:36-43
The story of Dorcas has been an inspiration to thousands; it is packed full of valuable lessons, all of which are important, and some of which need particular emphasis in these days. Dorcas lived at Joppa, a town situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, and was at that time the main seaport of Palestine (look up and compare Jonah 1:3; Acts 10:5-8). There was a Christian church at Joppa, and it is even possible that the believers met for worship and prayer in the home of Dorcas, because this was the custom in those days (Acts 12:12; Romans 16:5). We know very little about her, her age, her position in life, whether she was married, whether she lived alone, or whether she was rich or poor. But we do know that we have met many people like Dorcas, “who was always doing good and helping the poor”. She had a wonderful name, meaning ‘gazelle’ or ‘antelope’, or ‘full of grace’ (Acts 4:33). What can we learn from this passage of scripture?
1. Being a disciple is more than being a Christian
In verse 36 Dorcas is described as “a disciple”; of course ‘disciple’ here means ‘Christian’. This was (and is) applied to all who follow the Lord Jesus, but it is important to notice the significance of the word. A Christian is someone who comes to God as a lost sinner and accepts, or trusts, Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:37; 7:37; 10:9). Being a disciple involves more than the initial act of trusting Christ; a disciple is someone who follows Christ, but who accepts His discipline, acknowledges His authority and lordship and submits to His rule. Just think about this: if a disciple follows the example of Christ (1 Peter 2:21), accepts the teaching and authority of Christ (Luke 10:39), submits to the lordship of Christ (John 20:28), are we, in fact, true disciples? Look up Matthew 11:28-30, and be sure that you do not stop at verse 28.
2. Faith without works is dead
In verse 36 we are told that Dorcas was not just a talker but was “always doing” and in verse 39 we are told about the particular ministry which occupied much of her time; she made “robes and other clothing…” A needle is a very small thing, and the ability to use it is fairly common, but here is a ministry which is most acceptable to the Lord and which has brought much comfort and relief to His children. The Amplified Bible says of Dorcas that she was “abounding in good deeds and acts of charity”. Notice that her faith in Christ was seen by the works that she did. No-one can ever be saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5); but the obligation of every saved person is to be like Dorcas – “full of good works” (Ephesians 2:10 KJV). If you compare the two following ‘trustworthy sayings’ you will notice that, whereas the first stresses that salvation is given to us apart from works, the second emphasises the fact that the result, the evidence and the outflow of being saved is doing good works (1 Timothy 1:15; Titus 3:8). James has much to say about good works (James 2:14-26), and especially notice the last verse.
3. Sudden death can fall upon any of us
We say this, not to make anyone fearful, but simply because it’s true (verse 37)! Dorcas was ill and grew worse – and she died; her friends and loved ones said, ‘She’s gone!’ It was a bitter blow for that little community. Why did she die?
- 1. Had she sinned, and was this a chastening that came upon her from the Lord? It could have been but there is no indication of this – look up 1 Corinthians 11:26-32 and compare 1 Corinthians 4:5.
- 2. The Lord permitted it for some wise and loving purpose. Romans 8:28 was in operation! We cannot explain why suffering, sickness, accident and death afflicts us, but God knows what He is doing and one day we shall understand (John 13:7).
- 3. While we are in our physical bodies we must walk by faith, meaning that we are to trust God in His gracious dealings with us. He is altogether wise and is working out His plan in the lives of His children (Psalm 138:8).
Sickness, suffering, trials – these are meant to be channels of grace and power for God’s glory (Philippians 1:12). When John Calvin was dying he said, ‘The Lord is bruising me, but I am abundantly satisfied since it is from His hand!’
4. There is room for all in the service of God
We are all different, but there is work for each one of us to do for the Lord. Notice the variety of ministries at work in the Church:
- 1. Dorcas used her needle for the glory of God (verse 39) – it was small but acceptable. No work is too small for Him (Zechariah 4:10).
- 2. Some women attended to her (verse 37). We do not know who they were.
- 3. Two men went to Lydda to fetch Peter (verse 38) – God’s errand boys!
- 4. Some disciples sent the two men to Joppa (verse 38) – who were they?
- 5. Then Peter came, as we learn from verse 39.
- 6. Then, there were the widows (verse 39).
There are plenty of opportunities for Christian service, and the sphere of service is just as much in the home as in the church (Ephesians 4:4-7). In a sense there is no such thing as a ‘one-man ministry’!
5. The power of God is still operating today
How does His power operate? Look at verses 40-43 and see:
- 1. The power of prayer – verse 40.
- 2. The power of faith – verses 40-41.
- 3. The power of salvation – verse 42.