A Good Name (Proverbs 22:1)
I’ve told you before that—much to my chagrin—I go by my middle name instead of my first name. But when I was in the fifth grade, I decided I’d had enough of that. So, on the first day of class, I told my teacher that I wanted her to call me “Randall.” Now understand, everyone at school from the teachers to my fellow students knew me as “Justin.” Choosing to go by Randall that year created far more trouble for me than going by Justin ever did.
A few weeks ago, I logged on to my MyChart account and noted that I preferred to be called “Justin” instead of “Randall.” I thought we were “good to go,” and I could just go to the doctor and be called “Justin.” When I went to the cardiologist a few weeks ago, I went to the receptionist and introduced myself as “Justin.” The receptionist asked me for my date of birth, which I was happy to give her. She gave me a puzzled look in return and asked if I were “Randall Justin.” I give up! I guess my name at the doctor’s office is always going to be Randall.
You know a person’s name is an important part of his identity. You ladies likely recall the excitement you felt when you got to change your name after marrying. You parents likely spent many hours trying to come up with the right name for your children. You’ve probably embarrassed yourself by calling someone by the wrong name. Since this part of the country is such a melting pot, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out that you have a coworker or even a neighbor who has a name that you just cannot pronounce—I can’t pronounce my family doctor’s last name to save my life.
In Scripture, names are important. Parents often gave their children names with special significance.
- Eve named her firstborn Cain, “saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD’” (Gen 4:1). In Hebrew, “Cain” sounds like “gotten.”
- Rachel was dying in the process of giving birth to her second son. Her midwife told her that she had a son; with her last breath, Rachel named him “Ben-oni” (which means “son of my sorrow”). However, Jacob called his son “Benjamin” (which means “son of my right hand”) (Gen 35:17-18).
At times, God himself changed people’s names when there was some special significance.
- God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Gen 17:5-6). Abraham means “Father of a multitude of nations.”
- God gave Abraham’s wife the name Sarah which means “princess” (Gen 17:15).
- God gave Jacob the name “Israel” after the patriarch had wrestled with God all night (Gen 33:28). The name Israel means “He strives with God.”
God gave some folks their names before they were even born.
- When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to tell that Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, would conceive a son, Zechariah was commanded to name his son “John” (Lk 1:13).
- When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he told her to name her firstborn “Jesus” (Lk 1:31). The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh is salvation.”
This morning’s text speaks about the importance of a name. Solomon wrote: “A good name is priceless.”
Scripture (Proverbs 22:1)
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
The formula Solomon used here occurs elsewhere in the Book of Proverbs. “Rather than . . . better than” is used to demonstrate the greater value between two objects. The formula, however, doesn’t imply that the second item is somehow evil. Solomon—who wrote this Proverb—had great wealth, wealth God gave him (1 Ki 3:13). However, the point is that had Solomon been given two choices—Either he could have great riches or he could have a good name–he should choose the good name over the great riches.
But what did Solomon mean by “a good name?” The Hebrew word for “name” refers—just as the word does in English—to what one is called as well as to one’s reputation.
- After the Flood, men said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4). The people wanted to be famous, to have a solid, well-known reputation.
- God promised to make Abraham’s name great (Gen 12:2).
- David’s fame spread everywhere (1 Chr 14:17). The Hebrew word for “fame” is the same word for “name.”
What Solomon’s proverb means is that you need a good reputation—to have a good name is to have a good reputation. You need to choose a good reputation over everything else in this world.
“A good name is priceless.” How can you have a good name? Honestly, we need to answer that question in two parts this morning.
One: You need to seek a good name among men.
A healthy reputation is so very important. The first deacons were to be men of good repute (Acts 6:3). A qualification of elders is that they be well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim 3:7).
In the early church, many folks had good reputations.
- Even before he came to Christ, Cornelius was well spoken of by the entire Jewish nation (Acts 10:22).
- Timothy was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2).
- Ananias was a devout man and well spoken of by the Jews (Acts 22:12).
- Demetrius received a good testimony from everyone (3 Jn 12).
You need to be like those in the early church and have a good reputation. How can you do that? Honestly, Cornelius provides a great example. Although he was a Roman officer keeping the Jews in submission, he was well regarded by the Jewish nation.
What allowed a Roman officer to have such a good reputation among the Jews? Notice Acts 10:2: Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, [who] gave alms generously to the people, and [who] prayed continually to God.”
- Cornelius was devout—He sincerely tried to do the right thing (He’s called upright in Acts 10:22).
- He honored God—He feared God.
- He was generous—He gave alms generously.
- He prayed—The people wouldn’t have necessarily seen him praying, but they would have seen the results.
Can you not have a good name in the same way Cornelius had a good name?
- Are you devout? Do you try to do right? Do people see that you try to do right?
- Do you fear God? Do people see that God is your priority?
- Do you give generously? Do you give of your time? Do you give of your funds? Do you give of your other resources?
- Do you pray? Can people tell that you pray by the way that you live?
What type of reputation do you have in this community?
Two: You need to seek a good reputation with God.
While a good reputation is good and healthy, that isn’t always possible for the Christian. People don’t see you the same way God sees you. Some people will speak evil of you because you do right. The Lord Jesus said some folks will speak evil of you because you do right: Matthew 5:11-12.
Jesus himself did not always have a good reputation. In fact, the Lord was slandered. The high priest said that Jesus’s divine claims were blasphemy (Matt 26:63-65). The Sanhedrin sought false testimony against Jesus at his trial, and people openly lied about Jesus (Mk 14:55-59).
Regardless of your reputation with men, it’s vital that you have a good reputation with God. Many have had a good reputation with God.
- Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:8-9).
- God thought highly of Job. He said to Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).
- Abraham was called God’s friend (2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8; Js 2:23).
- Apelles was approved in Christ (Rom 16:10).
How do you get a good reputation with God? It’s simple: You obey him. John 14:23-24. If you honor God and put him above everything else, you will have a good name with God. Do you have a good name with God?
The greatest name anyone could ever have is that of “Christian.” Peter wrote: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet 4:16). Do you wear the name of Christian this morning, or do you need to claim that name while we stand and sing?