We could ask of any given politician, whose life is made better by his presence in or absence from the political scene? In many instances, the answer would be zilch either way. Politicians come and go with scarcely a ripple. As Charles Peters once wrote: “In Washington bureaucrats confer, the president proclaims, and Congress legislates, but the effect on reality is usually negligible if evident at all. The nation’s problems don’t disappear, and all the activity that is supposedly dedicated to their solution turns out to be make believe” (How Washington Really Works, p. 3).
Some politicians can and do make a positive difference – if they hold the right values, and if they have the power and will to get something done. But most arrive on the scene amidst much fanfare, and later exit it having accomplished little or nothing that makes any one of us better off. The net result of most political efforts is to give government at all levels greater authority to micromanage our lives.
A more devastating question is for each of us to ask of ourselves, who’s better off because I took up space, breathed air and used resources for a given number of years? Whose life have I made better? To whom will it truly matter when I’m gone? Who will the real mourners be?
About a “Gazelle”
There is a wonderful story in the book of Acts that tells of a woman whose name in Greek was “Dorcas” – meaning “gazelle.” The Hebrew for Dorcas or gazelle is Tavita. In the King James Version, it is rendered “Tabitha.” We’ll adopt the Hebrew here.
Tavita is described as being “full of good works and almsdeeds” (Acts 9:36). Doing good works and caring for the poor was not a part-time activity with Tavita, it was her passion. She filled up her days making coats and garments for those who could not afford to buy their own. She fulfilled Jesus’ teaching when he said, “I was…naked and ye clothed me” (Matthew 25:36). He based that teaching on another one: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40b).
Tavita clothed Christ because she clothed his brethren. Tavita was the kind of Christian whose existence made a difference to those around her. She saw a need, she had a talent, and she used her talent to meet the need. Those who were the beneficiaries of her good works were grateful. When Tavita became ill and subsequently died of her illness, a great wail of mourning went up over the town of Joppa (today’s Jaffa). The apostle Peter, who was visiting the nearby town of Lydda, was called to the scene. When he arrived, he was escorted to the second floor of a home where a roomful of widows was weeping over the body of Tavita. They were clutching all kinds of coats and other garments made by the hand of the deceased lady (Acts 9:39). Because she had cared, and put her labor where her care was, they were better off. But now she was dead. Those whose lives had been blessed by her work were deeply saddened by the passing of this good lady with the beautiful name.
Peter, clearly moved by the Holy Spirit to do so, gently removed the mourners from the room so that he could concentrate on a prayer for the cherished lady. He turned to the body, already washed and prepared for burial, and said, “Tavita! Arise!” Instantly the dead woman revived, opened her eyes and sat bolt upright (Acts 9:40). Then, “…he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and the widows, presented her alive” (Acts 9:41).
Instantly word began to spread around the city that Tavita, the woman known for her good works and alms giving, who had died, was now alive again! Undoubtedly many came to the house to see this living, breathing miracle. The woman who made tunics and coats had been resurrected from the dead! I can almost guarantee that she continued right where she had left off. Out came the needles, the thread and the cutting instruments. Down went the patterns and on went the fresh new garments. Tavita was again making a difference in the lives she touched.
God Meant it for Good
But that difference was no longer merely physical. The fact of her resurrection became “…known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). Tavita’s resurrection had an evangelizing effect! People were converted to Jesus Christ as a result of her testimony.
It all started with Tavita’s caring, and then with her good works that followed. Tavita’s life was vindicated. She had made a positive difference in the lives of those she touched. Her testimony brought many to the Lord.
How many ministers do you know who have been resurrected because of their great preaching? How many evangelists or prophets have been raised to preach again? Tavita was a minister in the best sense of the word. She fulfilled Warren Weirsbe’s definition of ministry: “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God” (On Being a Servant of God, p. 3).
Tavita is a model for Christians in all times and situations. There is always a need, but there are not always people who are willing to sacrificially meet that need. Tavita was willing.
The apostle Peter, speaking to Jewish believers in his day, offers some advice that is appropriate for all Christians: Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:11-12 NKJV).
The people of Joppa glorified God because they saw Tavita’s good works, and because they witnessed the reality of her resurrection back to physical life. From what happened to her, they learned something about God’s value system. They learned that clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting those who are sick or imprisoned and giving water to the thirsty are human acts of kindness that God prizes in people (Matthew 25:34-36).
It is high time that the Church shifted paradigms and began focusing on real ministry rather than on merely being religious and clinging tenaciously to denominational distinctives. We are called to be salt and light, not internally divided, bickering exclusivists who circle our wagons around indefensible doctrines and human personalities. We would be better off to imitate Tavita rather than those who turn Christian against Christian. Ask yourself again: “Who’s better off because I’m here?”