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10. Ministry Women Identified by Service: Dorcas

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Time: 30-40 AD Early Days of the Church in Jerusalem and Israel

Background

Perhaps one of the most startling cultural changes as a result of Christ’s ministry was the change in the status of women. Prior to the New Covenant, women were seen as little more than chattel, with no legal rights to speak of except by virtue of marriage. With the introduction of the Church, the true “Body of Christ,” women were seen as founders of churches (Lydia), disciples of Christ (Mary Magdalene), and prophetesses (Philip's daughters). While the dominant culture still held a less than liberated view of women, it seems that in the early church, women were disciples and fellow saints who were held in high esteem by Christians.

Dorcas was one such woman. Though little is known of her background, the account of her restoration from death back to life in Acts is proof not only of Christ’s continuing ministry to women but also a lesson to us all of the impact one person’s life can have in the everyday “good deeds” we so often take for granted.

Joppa was on the southern border of the Palestinian region called the Plain of Sharon, the largest coastal plain of Palestine. Its rich red sandy soil, now under extensive irrigation, contains citrus groves and commercial farms. Five streams and countless underground springs water its surface. Set on a rock that rises about 125 feet above sea level and juts out into the Mediterranean, it had an excellent natural harbor. It was the main seaport of Judah, receiving cedar logs floated down from Lebanon to build the temples of both Solomon (~970 B.C.) and Zerubbabel (~500 B.C.). Under Roman rule, Joppa became part of Herod the Great's territory. Because the people of Joppa hated Herod the Great, he built Caesarea some 40 miles to the north, and Joppa declined in importance. The city of Joppa today is Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Day One Study

1. Read Luke 8:49-9:2. What did Jesus do when He entered the house? Who was present with Him in the room?

2. What other two incidents have we studied where Jesus restored someone from the dead (see Lesson 6 and Lesson 7)? Who was present with Him?

Jesus challenged His followers to become “fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). He spent His second and third year of ministry equipping them with the tools they needed to do this. Reading through the gospels, you will see Jesus preparing them to teach the gospel message, to have compassion on people and meet their needs, and to interact with different kinds of people—both the faithful and the skeptics. As Jesus traveled with His followers, He let them take part in his ministry to prepare them for their own work. They watched Him engage different kinds of people—locals, foreigners, preachers, prostitutes, poor, rich, distraught parents, and more. He sent them to take the gospel to nearby towns and practice what they learned.

3. In Luke 9:1-2, 6. Jesus commissions His 12 disciples to go and do (in pairs, according to Mark 6:7).

  • What authority were they given?
  • What were they tasked to do?
  • What did they experience?

4. Jesus sent them out again (Luke 10:1-2) along with many other followers to once again practice what they learned. Jesus has gone back to heaven. His disciples remain—equipped with the authority to both proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Read Acts 3:1-11. Describe what happens in this scene.

5. Remember that the purpose of miracles is to authenticate the messenger and the message being proclaimed as well as to show God’s compassion on His people. Read Acts 3:12-26. What happened after the beggar was healed? How did Peter take advantage of the opportunity given to him by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the truth about Jesus?

Think About It: “Evangelism is not about you involving Him in your outreach efforts. It is Him involving you in His…Only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of unbelievers to the truth of the gospel…It is the job of believers to communicate the gospel. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convert the heart.” (David Souther, EvanTell)

6. Living Out His Love: Believers communicate the gospel in several ways. Two of the most powerful are through sharing the gospel message itself and through sharing one’s own faith story. People can reject the facts or logic of the gospel, but it’s very hard to argue with someone about their experience with knowing Christ. If you were given the opportunity by the Holy Spirit to share with a non-Christian about your relationship with Jesus, what would you say? Start now by sharing at least two ways that knowing Jesus has made a difference in your life, given you hope, restored something lost, etc.

Day Two Study

7. Read Acts 8:1-4. Describe what happened in the early church after the stoning of Stephen. How did God make something that looked “bad” work towards good from His perspective?

8. Jesus confronted Paul and gave him a new life’s direction. Paul responded with faith and embraced his new life. Read Acts 9:31. How did this affect the church? What could be the benefits of a “time of peace?”

9. Read Acts 9:32-35. Where was Lydda in relation to Jerusalem (see map in “New Testament Insights”)? What does this indicate about the spread of the Gospel?

10. Discuss how long Aeneas was bedridden, what Peter said to Aeneas and the outcome.

11. Living Out His Love: A man’s life was changed. Others saw it and turned to the Lord. They believed the message about Jesus Christ. Continue to work on your own faith story. Remember what your life was like before you trusted in Christ. Or, perhaps you trusted in Christ as a child so you don’t remember, but later you made the choice to follow Him with your life and experienced His love for you. What did you hear and feel when you heard the gospel message and believed? Or, when you made that choice to be His disciple? Think about how you would share that with another woman who doesn’t know Christ and hasn’t experienced His love for her yet. 

Day Three Study

12. Read Acts 9:36-40. Locate Joppa in relation to Lydda on the map (previous page). Assume news spread pretty quickly back then although maybe not quite as fast as it does today. What could the people in Joppa have known already about Peter?

13. Describe Dorcas, being sure to list her gifts as well as her circumstances.

14. Deeper Discoveries (optional): Why did Dorcas have “two” names (Dorcas and Tabitha)?

15. Reread Acts 9:37-39. Compare how the people of the church at Joppa felt about Dorcas and how they demonstrated their feelings.

16. How did Dorcas’ behavior reflect her faith and benefit those around her?

17. Compare Peter’s behavior towards Dorcas to Jesus' interaction with Jairus’ daughter. Discuss the similarities. Why do you think this is significant?

18. Living Out His Love: Part of your faith story is how you are living it out on a daily basis. Read 1 Peter 4:8-11. What is the ultimate goal of serving in Jesus’ name? Dorcas was a woman who knew her gifts and used them to minister to the saints in Joppa—her “sphere of influence.” Reflect on one or both of the following:

  • Your influence on someone—Are you aware of your gifts and how to use them to serve others? Share an instance in your life when your serving in Jesus’ name made a difference for someone in your “sphere of influence.” Recall the situation, your own feelings, how knowing Jesus motivated you to serve, her response, etc.
  • Someone’s influence on you—Share an instance when someone else using her gifts of serving in Jesus’ name made a significant impact on you in your faith. Recall the situation, your own feelings, how knowing Jesus motivated her to serve, your response, etc.

Day Four Study

19. Read Acts 9:36-43. What effect did the restoration of Dorcas from death to life have on the people of Joppa?

20. Living Out His Love: A man’s life was changed. A woman’s life was restored. Others saw it and turned to the Lord. They believed the message about Jesus. Each had something they could easily tell with just a few words. EvanTell.org suggests that you can create your own faith story beginning with just 3 words. Here’s how:

  • Choose your first word to describe your life, feelings, situation, thoughts, etc. before you placed your faith in Christ. Consider one of these: Angry, Independent, Manipulative, Miserable, Hopeless, Empty, Addicted, Aimless, Restless, Striving, Confused, Insecure. For example, you might choose the word “confused.”
  • Choose your second word to describe how you came to place your faith in Christ. Consider one of these: Creation, Studied, Concert, Grew, Bible, Friend, Trouble, Observation, Evangelist, Spouse, Loved. For example, you might choose the word “awakened.”
  • Finally, choose your third word to describe your life, feelings, situation, thoughts, etc. now that you have placed your faith in Christ. Consider one of these: Approachable, Peaceful, Generous, Loving, Brave, Caring, Teacher, Mentor, Servant, Elder, Hopeful, Compassionate, Confident. For example, you might choose the word “assured.”

Once you have your three words, you’re ready to come up with one or two sentences for each word. Just a brief explanation of how each word relates to your story. Here’s an example:

“Although I believed in the existence of a God, and even knew the story of Jesus, I didn’t fully understand how it all fit together. I was confused about the nature and character of Jesus as God, and how He had provided a way for me to be reconciled to the very Creator of the universe!

Through a series of conversations with new Christian friends in college, as well as exposure to some Christian music with meaningful lyrics, I came to understand Jesus as Savior. I was awakened to the reality that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead.

Now I am assured that through my trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, I have an unbroken relationship with the very God who created the universe and everything in it. This relationship is for eternity and my life with Him will not end when my time on earth does.”

3 words + 1 or 2 sentences per word = 3–6 sentences to tell your story. How simple is that! Create yours and share it with some friends soon or in your small group next week.

*Adapted from ”Create Your Own 3 Word Testimony” at http://evantell.org/tools/article-detail/article/143/create-your-own-3-word-testimony

[Go to “My Faith Story Worksheet” to help you write a longer version of your faith story. Use the “Screen Your Language” ideas that follow to check for “churchy” words. Then, pare your story down to 5 minutes, get together with some friends and share it. Woohoo!]

Related Topics: Character Study, Love, Women

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