Value A Good Name

Value A Good Name

One of the ways we pass down wisdom to succeeding generations is through brief proverbial phrases.  There’s a bunch of them.  Let me test how well you’ve been listening across your years.  I’ll start a phrase, and you supply the last word.

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  
  • Haste makes waste.  
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • No use crying over spilt milk.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  • All’s well that ends well.

These sayings aren’t from the Bible, but they are conventional wisdom about morality, conduct, and hygiene.  I kind of like them.  They may sound a bit trite, but at the same time they are also pithy, memorable, to the point, and usually true.

I

The Bible has an entire book devoted to little proverbs that help us live wise lives.  And on this Graduation Sunday we’re going to look at one of them.  I invite you to open your Bible to Proverbs 22:1.  The book of Proverbs is composed mostly of one sentence wisdom from everyday experience.  They become little anchor points when life is chaotic and we’re not sure what to do.  This week I heard Senator Marco Rubio say in an interview that with all the chaos in D.C. these days, he tries to stay grounded by reading one chapter of Proverbs each day.  “There are 31 chapters of Proverbs,” he said, “one for each day of the month.”  This wisdom centered him and kept him grounded in truth in a city full of lies.  Proverbs can certainly function that way.  And even though many sound a little shallow on the surface, there’s some profundity in their simplicity.  Will Willimon writes that:

Proverbs are the product of a society which loves its young enough to show them the way, to point to the path, to tell you what we have learned.  Proverbs are an affirmation that life has some answers, that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, morally speaking, in each generation.  Proverbs point the way.  Sit down, listen to me, and I’ll tell you what works in life, that’s Proverbs.

And our proverb this morning is a short couplet about the value of a good name.  Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).

A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; 

favor is better than silver or gold.

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  It plays nicely in church, but how well does it play on Central Avenue or Wall Street or Rodeo Drive?  And how well does it play among the most influential people in our culture like high-powered politicians and executives, recording artists and Hollywood celebrities?

A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; 

favor is better than silver or gold.

But if that’s true, how come somebody like Mother Teresa dies and gets a polite nod from newspapers and TV, but somebody like Princess Diana dies (and I’m not suggesting she didn’t have a good name) yet 20 years later networks run two-hour specials about the circumstances of her death?  Is a good name more valuable than wealth?  Is a favorable rep really better than silver or gold?  I checked Amazon.com this week on two books—one was written 9 years ago, the other 10.  O. J. Simpson’s book, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, currently sits as the number 80 best-selling book in biographies.  Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am, sits at 2843.  Who has the best name and who’s selling more books?

Our proverb says, “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver or gold.”  Do you believe this?  It does sound like something that ought to be said in church: “Choose character over striking it rich; a good reputation is better than a large bank account.”  That sounds good.  But I’m not so sure many are buying it?  Form two lines at any high school or college graduation this spring, form two lines at any employment office or corporate board meeting.  One line leads to wealth and the power that comes with it; the other line leads to a good name.  Which line will be longer?  And what if we formed those same lines at church?  I’m afraid to find out which line would be longer here.  I fear that what we say might be trumped by what we chase.  Worldly wisdom and American culture are largely about chasing cash.  That’s really the way the whole world works.  “Choose power, riches, things, and if there is any free time left over when you get home from the office, work on your character and reputation.”  That’s worldly wisdom.

But this is God’s wisdom:

A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; 

favor is better than silver or gold.

II

Sort of makes you wonder if you can have both: a good name and great wealth.  That’s possible.  Proverbs doesn’t suggest that a good name and great wealth are mutually exclusive.

  • Look at v. 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the LORD makes them all.”
  • Look at v. 4: “Humility, the fear of the LORD, results in wealth, honor, and life.”  
  • And look at v. 9: “A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

 

It is possible to have both a good name and great wealth.  You and I know some people who have both.  But Proverbs switches the price tag on their value.  In God’s wisdom, a good name (aka stellar character) is better than wealth.  A sterling reputation is more valuable than silver or gold.  Jesus didn’t have wealth growing up, but he had this: He grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people” (Lk. 2:52).  Jesus had a good name but no wealth.  But a few do have both.  According to the proverbs we just heard, a humble rich person who fears the Lord and is generous with the poor can have both wealth and a good name.  But don’t chase wealth; chase the good name, pursue a good reputation.  If wealth hitches a ride with it, well, boom goes the dynamite—give thanks, stay humble, be generous.  But wealth is not the goal—a good name and a good reputation is the goal.  When God overhears someone talk about one of His children, God would rather hear him say, “Jack is a good man” than “Jack is a rich man.”  God would rather hear, “Warren Buffet is a good name” than “Warren Buffet has money to burn.”

It is possible to have both a good name and wealth.

III

But if you can only have one, value a good name more than great wealth.  Proverbs frames this as a choice.  And wisdom calls us to make choices that build the value of our name and character rather than the value of our bank account.  In some ways, that’s a choice we can make early in life—a kind of definitive meta-choice that gives direction to the other choices we make—sort of like a decision to follow Christ.  But at the same time, this is also a choice we will make often in the twists and turns of our lives.  Do I tell the truth or a lie?  Do I cut corners to save money or do I do the job I promised?  Do I dive into a get-rich-quick scheme that feels a little shady or do I avoid the kind of gambles that could tarnish my name and rot my character?  These are the kind of everyday choices that add to or subtract from a good name.  And so are these: Who will I choose to be my role models and mentors?  Who will I look to for counsel and advice?  Whose company will I keep?  Make the large choice to value a good name most of all, and then make the everyday choices that keep you on that path.

A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; 

favor is better than silver or gold.

You have options in this matter.  You can make a choice.

IV

And the choice you make has an impact beyond your own life.  This choice impacts the lives of others who bear your name.  Don’t many parents give their children the “name” talk along the way?  I know I did.

Nathan, Kristen, you are a McCallum.  It is a good name.  It stands for good character.  It has a rich heritage.  Most of your ancestors have worn it well.  And though people don’t know our ancestors around these parts, they know us, and McCallum is a good name here too.  What you do, how you act, and how you treat others will either add luster to our name or tarnish it.  Shine it up, kids.  Live in such a way, that when people hear the name McCallum they’ll smile instead of spit.

Maybe I’m a crazy dad, but I really did give my kids a version of this kind of speech.  And when the time is right I’ll probably give a similar speech to my grandkids.  We never had money, but we had a good name, and I was taught to value it.

And then one day, long about the time my son started junior high it hit me that our family doesn’t just carry the name McCallum, we carry the name Christian.  I still remember dropping him off for his first day at Pleasant Lea Junior High in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and reminding him that he also carries the name of Christ.  And if ever there is a good name, it is the name of Jesus Christ: Son of God, Son of Man, Bread of Heaven, Living Water, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection, the Life, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Healer, Chain-breaker, Redeemer, Savior, King of kings, Lord of lords.  Jesus Christ is a beautiful, wonderful, powerful name, the name above all names, the only name by which we can be saved, the only name at which one day every knee will bow.  If you know Jesus as your Savior, you carry His name.  So the stakes of pursuing a good name ratchet up even higher.  Not only do my bad choices and wrong-headed pursuits tarnish my name, they tarnish the name of Jesus Christ.  Choosing to value a good name ahead of money has a larger impact than you may think.  It can impact the way people think about Christ.

And it can impact eternity.  Another reason to choose a good name ahead of great wealth is because riches don’t last, but we do.  You can’t take luggage into eternity; you can only take you.  Ancient pharaohs were often entombed with the supplies they needed to carry into eternity.  But you know what?  If you were to open those tombs today, the supplies or the dust of their decomposition are still there.  That stuff never made it into eternity.  But you will.  Take a good name with you when you go.  When you stand before the Lord, your earthly riches won’t mean a thing.  How could they when in heaven gold has such little value it is used for pavement?  But a good name will be of great value.  “He’s one of ours,” Jesus will say to the Father.  “He has our family name and he has worn it well.”  Valuing a good name has impact on others and impact on eternity.

V

This is a good word for our graduates because in the next few years most of you will be making three or four of the most important choices in life.  So think in larger parameters than what you want to do for a job or how much money you hope to make.  And if you choose to marry, be sure your spouse shares this value, or you’ll be building your marriage on shifting sand.  Steven Covey suggests that the second of the seven habits of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”  Think about the kind of person you want to become and what you hope the people who know you will say about you at the coffee shop today and at your funeral someday.  These larger issues are captured in the pursuit of a good name and the everyday choices that keep it good.  Remember that, graduates.

And all of us could use that reminder as well.  I’ve lived long enough to know that when life is winding down and you look back on your days, a good name is what you will care about most of all.

In the film Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan was motivated to care deeply about such things.  Ryan’s three brothers had already been killed in action, and the army was determined to see to it that the last living brother made it home to his grieving mother’s arms.

Ryan was serving in the 82nd Airborne and was somewhere behind enemy lines in Normandy after D-Day.  Captain John Miller was ordered to take a small platoon of men, find Ryan, and get him back to safety.  Needless to say, Miller’s men questioned the wisdom of risking the lives of many to save the life of one.  But being soldiers, they did their duty.

And they found him.  Ryan and a very small group of fellow paratroopers were trying to hold a critical bridge important to both the Allies and the Germans.  Ryan’s group was awaiting a German counterattack when Miller and what was left of his platoon found him.  Though they could have bugged out, they opted to stay and, depending on the fortunes of the battle, defend or destroy the bridge on the condition that Ryan would stay by Miller’s side at all times.  Miller was committed to completing his mission and getting Ryan to safety.  During the course of the battle most of Miller’s men were killed and in the end Miller was shot up too.  But they saved Ryan.  And as Miller lay propped up on the bridge, wounded and bleeding, Ryan went to him.  Miller pulled him close and, with what little strength he had left, whispered in Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.  Earn this.”  Then Captain John Miller died.

The scene quickly shifts some half-century later when an aged Ryan and his family are visiting the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy.  He is at the grave of Capt. John Miller when his memories overwhelm him.  With tears streaming down his face, he pulled his wife close.  He didn’t ask her if he’d made enough money.  He didn’t ask if Miller would have been impressed by the size of his house or how high he climbed in the company.  He asked meaning questions: “Did I live a good life?  Was I a good man?”  He wanted desperately to believe that his life was worth the sacrifice of so many men and the good Captain Miller who led his rescue.

Want to hear some good news?  Jesus’ dying word to us was not, “Earn this,” but “It is finished.”  Jesus earned life for us through His death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.  We can’t earn the salvation and life only Jesus gives.  We can only receive it as a gift.  And when we receive this life in repentance and faith we can work to earn a good name, choosing every day to live in ways that make for a good name, a solid character, a good life, and glory to Jesus.  That life will serve you in this world and the next a whole lot better than a safe full of silver and gold.  Got it?

VI

Then let’s review—one last test for our graduates: you did very well with the proverbial phrases when we began.  Now, see if you can supply the last word to each of these phrases:

A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; 

favor is better than silver or gold.

Oh, and a take-home test too: go live like it.

Preached: May 21, 2017

First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR

John Scott McCallum II