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Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe: the Faithful Women

Today we celebrate Dorcas (also known as Tabitha), Lydia, and Phoebe, the faithful women of the Bible. Dorcas and Lydia we meet in Acts. Phoebe we learn about in Romans as the woman who delivered Paul’s letters. We take our devotional readings for today from Men and Women of the Word by Jaroslav Vajda.

Devotional Reading on Dorcas

She was full of good works and acts of charity. Acts 9:36 RSV

As the news of [Dorcas’s] death spread through the community, many gathered to pay their respects to the woman eulogized by the Bible as “full of good works and acts of charity.” When it was learned that Peter was at nearby Lydda, he was called and arrived at the house, where “all the widows stood besides him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39 RSV). Her friends were poorer by one good person, and a large quantity was subtracted from the supply of love in the world. The death of Dorcas was a great loss to those who were left behind.

Dorcas died, but the good that she had done went on living after her. It was like seed planted to bear fruit later. Like the coats and garments she had made for the poor, the coverings of love she had woven during her lifetime were still warming the chilled and lonely souls of many. She had been a fountain of kindness. Yet more amazing than the sudden shutting off of that fountain was the emergence of that fountain in the first place.

Dorcas was not just a certain woman living in Joppa, who happened to be a very charitable person. She is recorded for all time as a certain disciple. That meant that she was a follower, or pupil, of the Lord Jesus. This was the well of living water which had sprung up in her and which flowed forth to enrich the lives of others.

God permitted Dorcas to be raised from the dead by Peter, in order for her to go on loving for a while longer, not in order to pass into life. She had already passed from death to life when she was raised from selfishness to service by her faith in Jesus Christ. She was alive for God because she followed Jesus. That was why she loved her neighbors.

Dorcas had learned the meaning of discipleship. It consists in following; following Jesus obediently, following Him in trust, following Him in love and in sacrifice, following Him through death into life eternal with the Father. Dorcas was that kind of disciple. There were the coats and garments to prove it.

Devotional Reading on Lydia

If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay. Acts 16:15 RSV

The world of business can be a dangerous arena. It is filled with victims who have been scarred in cutthroat combat with ruthless competitors. Certain ventures on that battlefield end in ulcers, dishonesty, scandal, or even death. The stakes are high, the ground rules are tough, and the casualties are legion.

In that agitated arena stood a certain woman named Lydia, a native of Thyatira. She was a seller of purple, an expensive textile, in the city of Philippi. All indications hint that she was a successful career woman.

Her brief biography in Acts 16 states that she was also a worshiper of God. Today that would be nothing unusual. Many business people are members of the church. But then, in Philippi, it was worth remarking that Lydia was both a businesswoman and a worshiper of the true God. As difficult as it is to be both today, a merchant and a consistent believer, it was more difficult then.

The entire city was pagan. People who did not worship the gods of the Greeks stood out among the majority. And merchants who were not pagans were even more conspicuous. In fact, they were asking for a hard struggle. The heathen merchants were wary of competition as it was, but they were particularly on guard against nonpagan competition. It was in that very city that Paul and Silas were framed and jailed by the owners of a slave girl who became a Christian because of their preaching and who stopped making money for her owners by fortunetelling. Lydia dared to be a merchant and a worshiper of God under those circumstances.

Running into such obstacles, Lydia might have felt that she had done enough to have made a gesture in the direction of religious affiliation. She might have felt it wise to play down her church connections and gradually to push her faith into the background. She could turn to it if she had to. Or she might exploit her religious ties to get a few Jewish and Christian customers. But she did none of these things.

Rather she made her position more hazardous by opening her heart to the Gospel and being baptized a Christian. The circle in which she was enclosed now grew smaller still. There were at least more Jews in the city than Christians, and if the Jews had only the pagans against them, as a Christian she would have both the pagans and the Jews boycotting her store. But this did not stop Lydia either. She proceeded to have her entire household baptized, and then she opened her home to the apostles as a church.

There is no record of her having abandoned her career at this point. Instead she converted it too into a calling and used it to serve the Lord and her fellowmen. She, who knew the value of purple goods, discovered the priceless value of the garment of the righteousness woven of crimson strands on the loom of the cross. She knew that the wearer of that “purple” would be marked as a royal priest before God. Not only she herself could now wear this garment, but her customers and friends, admiring it, would desire to have one like it themselves. And she could tell them where to get it, not wholesale, but completely free of charge.

Prior to her conversion, Lydia could offer the Philippians the finest quality of goods, patrician purple. Now those who came to her store could find there the best “purple” anywhere.

Devotional reading adapted from Men and Women of the Word by Jaroslav Vajda, pages 145–50. Copyright © 1964, 1996 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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