Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43)

In a world where even the church can succumb to cults of personalities, to big egos, to rising stars, the Bible reminds us there is a place for quiet, loving faithfulness.

The Books of Acts is all about the church’s triumphal march through the world, wherein God fulfills his promises to Abraham, that the whole world would be saved through his seed (Jesus/Israel), that the nations would be brought in to worship Yahweh, and that his name would be great. This is done through the work of the apostles, the faithful, and the god-fearers.

Of course, a large amount of time is spent on the apostles. It is they who work miracles in among the nations (the miracles they perform by the power of the Spirit are the same in kind as those performed by Jesus). Demons are exorcised, the dead are raised, the blind see, the sick are healed, etc. It is they who exegete the Scriptures, showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world.  It is Peter who is given the word that the Gentiles are now a part of God’s covenant community, and he reports as much to Jerusalem. Paul makes known the gospel to the Gentiles, turning the nations from their idolatry to the worship of the one God in Christ.

But, I am struck by the portrayal of Tabitha in Acts 9. She performs no miracles, neither does she make any grand sermon on behalf of the church. Really, all she does in the story is die! Peter is the one who brings her back, and that resurrection is the basis by which most in the town hear the gospel and are saved. But even though she doesn’t “do” anything in the story, Luke notes that she was well-known for good works and acts of charity.

Not miracles. Not resurrections. She doesn’t speak any sermons that we are aware of.

But she is recorded in history for her good works and acts of service. The Bible is not a book which minces words. Remember: behind each repetitive line, minor detail, genealogy, building dimension, is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, life-breathing into the author of Scripture. Luke doesn’t include a detail for the sake of including a detail; rather, the detail is included because God wanted that detail in there.

So, really, what does this mean for us today? Well, I’d hate to draw too much from a single line in a seven verse passage about Tabitha. To draw too much would be conjecture at best, and at worst, harming the church by making up nonsense. But I do think that this detail was included because it tells us that the rise of the early Church was not simply because of the miraculous works of the apostles.

Rather, the rise of the early church was a combination of both the miracles, sermons, exorcisms, AND the quiet, loving, faithfulness of the early believers. If everything was miraculous, always on the move, who would faithfully be in their city, spreading the gospel to co-workers? Who would do the work of discipleship? As we get caught up in the grand, miracle-filled, wonderous narrative of Acts, the Spirit draws our attentions to the “regular” Christians,  as well.

We might be quick to get caught up in not thinking we’re doing enough for God. Our ministries are not big enough; we don’t speak to enough people per week; we don’t do enough of X, Y, or Z. No, I think here the Bible extols the value of our small, mundane lives, and our quiet faithfulness. For the rest of human history, Tabitha’s good works and charity will be recorded for each and every Christian to read and learn from. Her quiet acts were not inconsequential; in fact, she becomes a paradigm for this type of service. Let her life serve as an example for ours: she had no way of knowing her life would be recorded in the Scriptures. Who knows how our quiet, faithful living might influence someone, or even the world or all of history?

So, whenever we get down about not living a big enough life, or not doing enough for God, or worrying about our legacy as Christians, we can be reminded of Tabitha. Her acts of charity and good works were recorded forever. We can be confident that God is pleased with our quiet acts of charity and good works because he took time out of the book of Acts to record it for us for all eternity. God does not overlook these in favor of “big” acts. Anything done in Christ is pleasing to him and part of his plan to usher in a new creation to the world ravaged by sin.

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