Posted in theology

Observable Character: Dorcas

By Elizabeth Prata

Ruth. David. Dorcas. They had character.

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

I wrote about Ruth’s character here, her love for God, her love for Naomi, her submission, humility, diligence.

I wrote about David’s character, his bravery, his love for God, his repentance, here.

We can observe through the pages of scripture Ruth and David’s character. The Spirit has recorded their words and their acts for us to assess and enjoy.

Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, is a different story. We don’t meet Dorcas until she is dead. Yet, we can readily observe that Dorcas was someone to emulate. Why? The reaction of her friends and the people in her sphere after she had died. We never read her words and we never see via first person what her works were. But her character is just as observable as Ruth’s and David’s!

We don’t know Dorcas’s marital status, only that she was a disciple who lived in Joppa. Joppa was about 40 miles from Jerusalem on the coast.

Dorcas was living Paul’s principles as written in Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:9-15,

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

Dorcas certainly had a reputation for good works, caring for the afflicted, and devoting herself to every good work.

And it seems she had avoided the lifestyle written against by Paul in that same passage:

But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

How do we know this? Dorcas was no idler. She was completely occupied with Jesus and His people. She gave the adversary no occasion for slander. (1 Timothy 5:15). Quite the opposite, as we will see.

Her story begins in Acts 9:36.

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

Let’s stop there for a moment. I like how the Spirit made sure that we would know who she is by repeating her name in both languages, Aramaic and Greek. Dorcas is a Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha, which means “gazelle”. So the Jews knew her as Tabitha and the Greeks knew her as Dorcas. She was known.

She was full … the word full here means abounding, completely occupied with. It is the very definition of a full life. It seems from reading the original word that Dorcas’s life was oriented as much as possible toward Jesus, as she loved Him so much that she completely loved His people, and showed it with being occupied with good works on their behalf.

of good works… the word good is the widest possible meaning good. It describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in life through faith, according to Strong’s. So her works weren’t surface and they weren’t hypocritical. They were spiritually powerful because they were as much as possible from God and for God.

This is amazing. How often are the works we do offhand, or casual, or mixed with other motives? Dorcas’s wasn’t. They were intentional and full of love and spiritually empowered. Her works weren’t only good to the people, her works were good to God. This is the highest kind of good works of all.

and charity… This word means the poor, a specific benefaction toward the poor, as in alms giving. It seems Dorcas was not scared off by dirty people. Remember, the poor in the first century looked like the poor man outside rich Lazarus’s house, with sores, on a mat, dirty from grime and road dust, full of fleas and bed bugs, wearing tatters. There was no Social Security or Welfare or WIC or anything at all. The destitute were destitute. For women, things could get worse than even that, in a hurry. If she was cast off (divorced), single, a widow, without family, the she was living life on the edge of death every day. Dorcas was completely involved with these impoverished ladies in her works of charity. She made them clothes.

The passage in Acts 9 goes on, Dorcas became ill and died. She was washed and laid out in an upper room. But it does not end there. The ladies didn’t stand around and cry, bury her, and go on with their lives. Dorcas meant so much to them that the women took action.

They sent two men to Lydda where they knew Paul was, and implored Paul to come to them in Joppa without delay. Paul did. (Good for him!) When he arrived to that upper room with Dorcas laid out, a crowd of women were there, according to Strong’s again, weeping aloud, expressing uncontainable, audible grief.

All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. (Acts 9:39b).

ALL the widows. It means all, every. Really? Every widow in Joppa? Wow. Sounds like a Dorcas touched a lot of lives!

Showing the tunics, the word here means of abundance and multitude.

Dorcas’s illness and death rocked the world of the people she touched. They loved her, really loved her. Do you often wonder, what people might think of you after you are gone? How your life impacted them? Would they weep and mourn, or would they just go on with their life, shrugging at the loss for a moment and then you’re forgotten?

Loving Christ and doing constant good works in His name and for His name will never be void. A life such as that will never be empty. Dorcas’s character was so sterling and bright that even after her death we see how much of an impact she made for His name. May our character be as bright.

PS: By the power of God, He allowed Paul to raise Dorcas to life again. And many who heard of this, believed. (Acts 9:42).



Further reading

Observable Character: Ruth

Observable Character: David

Who was Dorcas / Tabitha in the Bible?

Posted in theology

Observable Character: David

By Elizabeth Prata

And Saul commanded his servants, “Find me someone who plays well, and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him.” (1 Samuel 16:17-18).


King Saul is distressed. He gets these spells of despondency and near madness due to an evil spirit plaguing him. Music quells these incidences, and in v. 16, Saul is calling for help. Saul’s servant replies that ‘he has seen’ a young man of good character. We’ll come back to ‘he has seen.’

You notice that the servant didn’t just leave it at ‘plays well’. Anyone can hire a good musician. But when you’re feeling down, who do you want nearby to comfort you, even if it is through music with potentially not much personal interaction? You want a good man. So the servant also included David’s character qualities in this verbal resume. He said that it is seen that David is known to be valorous, strong (man of war), and discerning. That’s the Hebrew word for ‘prudent in speech’. What is meant here is “intelligent, discreet, discerning, have understanding”. When you’re King and enter into a spell of weakness, you don’t want a blabbermouth  running your private business all over town and you want someone compassionate.

Finally, the servant ends with a kicker: the Lord is with David.

In the New Testament times one would likely say “He is in the Lord”, or “The Spirit is in him.”

The saints of God are recognized by their fruit. One example is Samuel, “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man.” (1 Sam 2:26; cf Luke 2:40).

Luke 6:44 reminds us that a good tree will bear good fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us that the fruit is:

“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Matthew 5:14 says we are to be light in the world. Light is not hidden but bright and high so all can see. We believers are to have evidence in our lives that we are one of the Lord’s. That evidence needs to be seen in our words and deeds. (James 2:14). We need to have observable evidence because sanctification means we are daily being conformed to the image of Christ. We must reflect His character in more observable ways as we grow though our life.

I am not talking about personal reputation. I am not speaking of a motivation where we cultivate the approval of man. I am not speaking of that at all.

As James M. Hamilton explained in his book Work and Our Labor for the Lord,

We live obediently and humbly “as a good testimony for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 5:14; 6:1; Titus 2:5,9). At many points in his letters Paul instructs Christians to live in a way that reflects concern for how non-Christians perceive Christianity and its adherents. That is to say, Christians are to work in ways that commend the faith to outsiders. Believers are to be winsome and attractive, not repulsive and obnoxious. This concern for how unbelievers perceive the faith is inextricably connected to a desire for others to know, enjoy, and glorify God in Christ. This aspect of doing good work links up with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Christians contribute to the task of making disciples of all nations by doing good work that gives the faith a good reputation.”

It’s the reputation of Christ that is at play here, not ours. If we are observably joyful, kind, faithful, self-controlled, good, patient, peaceful, loving, full of light, it will be obvious that it is Christ’s character in us, by the Spirit.

David’s character was observable and noted. Remember, whether you realize it or not, even if you work from home or work in a cubicle, people are watching you (us). They note your (our) character. The more we walk with Christ, the more our character will be His character.

What are people observing about you? Is Christ in you and evident? When someone wants to choose a person for a project or a team or a club, would they say you (me) are brave, prudent, skillful, with good presence, and the Lord with us? Like David? I hope and pray that people see the Lord in me, and not me in me, or at least less and less of me. Christ’s character is beautiful.


Observable Character: Ruth

Observable Character: Dorcas

Ligonier Teaching Series: The Life of David (free)