"A Good Name"        Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23,          September 6, 2009
God is far more interested in your character than he is your comfort, or your career, because you’re not taking your career to heaven, but you are taking your character. —RickWarren.

Proverbs is a collection of wisdom thoughts. It contains sage advice for those who would listen and respond. Throughout the book, there is an assumed Lens upon our life. An Eye that watches every human move.   

As the author of wisdom, God watches over the decisions of women and men. God has designed us to live one way — according to wisdom — and warns us against living outside of that design.

In the divine chronicling of our lives, Proverbs implores us to be people whose character reflects our Father in Heaven. We are asked to live privately, and in public, according to Wisdom.
Specifically in this text, three images emerge that should shape what we look like: Reputation, Riches, and Regard.

1) Our Reputation:
Mae West, the flamboyant and scandalous actress of the 1930s, reportedly said, “It’s a story I wrote myself, about a girl who lost her reputation and didn’t miss it.” The writer of Proverbs says that a good reputation is something we should miss if we lose it.

We are to be concerned about maintaining “a good name” and “favor” in the public eye (v. 1): “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” People should easily be able to speak well of us. Our character and reputation should precede us.

Character is what God and the angels know of us; reputation is what men and women think of us.  —
1A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 2The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.
The importance of a “good name” in ancient Israel (v. 1) can not be overestimated, and it is an important theme in wisdom literature. In Ecclesiastes 7:1, a good name is better than precious ointment, and in Sirach 41:13, a good name is said to be more durable than even life itself.
A person’s “name” in the biblical tradition meant more than a personal identifier, or how someone got your attention. It contained and denoted something of the person’s essential being or character — similar to, but more than the word “reputation” —
so that when the biblical tradition speaks of one’s “name” being cut off (e.g., Joshua 7:9; Ruth4:10; Isaiah 14:22; etc.), it indicates a loss of more than simple personal identity. It indicates a loss of both descendants and, through them, social influence, presence and standing in the community.

In wisdom circles, the term may have been somewhat more closely allied with the sense of reputation. The ability to establish and preserve one’s reputation among one’s peers, as well as among one’s superiors, was considered an indispensable skill.

The idea that a good name can be “chosen” (v. 1) reflects the practical aspect of
Israel’s wisdom tradition. Wisdom literature places a high premium on the ability of human beings to make definite choices with clear consequences (cf Ecclesiastes 3:22; 9:11). A good name is largely a matter of hard, patient work. (Much of the wisdom tradition, in fact, is devoted to preserving those maxims designed to yield, through disciplined appropriation, precisely the sort of identity summarized as “a good name.”)
We’ve all been to funerals and heard friends and loved ones eulogized. While funerals are a time of grief and mourning, they’re paradoxically joyous celebrations as well. When a person has lived a long life of faith — one that honored God and honored people — you cannot stop people from gushing in memorial.

If we were to pass, what would our funeral feel like: merely a somber sense of loss or a celebratory recognition of a life lived? What would mark our life? What would be said in our memory?

This is our good name.

BenjaminFranklin, wrote: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

The concern of Proverbs is that we retain our good character and reputation.

But why is our standing with others important? Does anyone really care? Why does someone else’s opinion of us matter, especially when Christian ethical standards are usually higher than cultural ones?

It has to do not with our standards and our image but with God’s standards and God’s image. God is intimately concerned with his own reputation. God’s name. God’s glory. God’s fame. They are called holy, worthy and exalted. God is perfectly good and wants to be seen as such.

Because God’s reputation among people is so important, he is concerned about our reputation as well. God has chosen to connect the two, welcoming public evaluation of his followers as a means for outsiders to know what God is like.

We are to be salt and light (Matthew 5). We are God’s ambassadors because God is making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians
5:20). Ephesians 3 demands that elders be above reproach, which is an assumption of public assessment.

Our name and standing are important, but not for our own esteem. It’s important for God’s esteem. In a sense, our reputation is God’s mission.

2) Our Riches:
2The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.
8Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. 9Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
This text also envisions financial modesty. Riches — silver and gold — are literally set in contrast to a good name. Riches are frequently compared, explicitly or implicitly, with other values in the biblical tradition (such as a good name or wisdom or virtue). Although, riches are not in themselves to be despised, they are often found wanting in comparison with other goods.

The gist of the second verse is that neither poverty nor riches are the direct result of an individual person’s achievement, but are, rather, determined by God’s providence. This consistent with statements elsewhere in wisdom literature (e.g., Psalm 49:6; Proverbs
11:28) warning against trusting in riches (or anything else) in preference to trusting in God.

The snapshot in this text is incredibly countercultural for several reasons. Wealth often bolsters one’s reputation, but the text sets them in contention. Possessing wealth is usually equated with being blessed, but the text says giving wealth away is blessed.

The picture suggested by this proverb is challenging. There ought to be no distinguishing between the rich or the poor in the church, only the blessed generous and those blessed by the generous.

In addition to the images of reputation and riches, is the image of our regard.
3) Our Regard:
22Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; 23for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
God is a God of the marginalized who cares for the widow and orphan, the stranger and the alien, the poor and the infirm. These are the people who are often overlooked or forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind … out of existence.

Because of this, God reminds us of his justice on behalf of those who are often ignored. God will ensure that injustice reaps calamity. The rod, or authority, connected with oppression lasts only for a short time.

Deuteronomy 10 exhorts
Israel to maintain issues of social justice because God does. Isaiah 61 connects the coming of the Messiah to the advent of mercy for the marginalized. Micah 6:8 calls believers to live justly and to love mercy.

Princeton professor, philosopher, critic and civil-rights activist Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” In a passage about public perception of the follower of God, we are to be pictured as those who love in public.

Because God regards the cause of the overlooked, we are to share his regard for them..

Although wisdom literature depended more on common human experience than on divine revelation for its precept,
Israel’s God was never wholly absent from wisdom teachings. The world is never perceived to be autonomous or devoid of divinity. The task of wisdom literature was to equip young and old alike to be able to perceive and appropriate the wisdom of the divine presence in common experience.
Like celebrities under the constant eye of the camera lens, the followers of Christ are always being watched. Our God sees all that we have done and all that we have left undone. And our culture has an eye turned toward us as well, wondering if our lives will match our words. What images will they see?
Rev. RosemaryStelz
First Presbyterian Church
Bastrop, Louisiana

  June 2021  
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