A good name is to be more desired than great wealth,
Favor is better than silver and gold.
(Proverbs 22:1 NASB)
What is in a name? What is the value of a good name? Why would the wise writer assert that it is greater than wealth, and how is it earned? If there is anything remotely like a theme to the later chapters of proverbs it may in fact be questions such as these.
When John Donne wrote his meditation on life entitled No man is an Island it was not merely a reflection on the dependence of each man upon another, but how life is both enriched and impoverished by our connections to those around us. He famously ended the refrain with this proverb of his own making
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Indelible marks are made upon the life of every man by the entrances and exits of others. So it is the case that our comings and goings score the lives of those around us. Yet it is often the case that it is not those things that we would wish to be remembered for that leave the most distinguishing marks.
There’s one proverb in particular that comes up twice within a few verses. It’s first found in Proverbs 22:28 and then again in 23:10. Both are quotations of a passage in Deuteronomy 19
28 Do not move the ancient boundary
Which your fathers have set.
(Proverbs 22:28 NASB)
10 Do not move the ancient boundary
Or go into the fields of the fatherless,
11 For their Redeemer is strong;
He will plead their case against you
(Proverbs 23:10-11 NASB)
We all know that influence is a powerful thing, and yet it is sometimes true that people see us at our absolute worst. Oh that it were not the case, but there is just no denying it. Often times it is the smallest of infractions that most mar our influence. It would be a small thing to move a stone marker that delineated a boundary between two property owners, and yet it would impact everyone around the one who moved the stone throwing their property into dispute. It would amount to theft. Moreover we might ask, who would really care if the portions left for the widows, orphans, and strangers were diminished? The land was not theirs. They were itinerate workers at best. Leviticus 19, 23; Deuteronomy 14, 24; Ruth 2 are all passages that showed that the Lord took great care in providing for those who could not provide for themselves. If wheat, or olives, or grapes were missed or dropped in the first harvest the landowner was not allowed to go back and attempt a second harvest. The corners of the fields were to be reserved for those who had no land. They became their fields in a sort.
So again who would care or know if these boundaries were moved? In that the Lord provided in this way for those who could not provide for themselves His concern for them was extended through the holiness of His people. It would seem perhaps a small thing to violate this, to cheat by picking up some of what was dropped, or to shrink the corners of the field. Perhaps someone might even justify the behavior by pointing out that these very same people were provided for in other ways. According to Deuteronomy 14 every third year the tithe of the field was stored up in the town to care for these very same people. But that’s just it, in that the Lord encoded these things for them He wanted them to never forget His regard for these seemingly smallest of commandments.
The point of this is not to discuss God’s care for those who cannot care for themselves, but rather to point out that God is glorified when we show His holiness in our lives. Perhaps that’s why he so strongly rebukes the people for their oppression of the poor in Jeremiah 22 and Zechariah 7.
As was said before it would be great if the world always saw us at our best and most godly, but its gaze is unflinching. Those small things that don’t seem to add up to much, those slight impingements of character unfortunately are the things that are most often noticed and are the longest remembered.
In Nathan’s rebuke of David in 2 Samuel 12:9 the Prophet asks why he has despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight, and then in verse 14 David is told the consequence of his sin. Specifically he was told that he had given an occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. David was God’s anointed. A man chosen by God himself to be king and yet he had defiled the holiness for which he had been chosen. David was never quite the same after this, and his life bore the scars, as did the lives of Bathsheba, Tamar, Absalom, and the entire nation.
Much as David was called the Lord’s anointed, we are called His saints and believers more than any other term in the New Testament these are the titles given to those who profess themselves to be followers of Christ. In Acts 11 we are given the moniker Christian. That term would translate literally into Christ followers or Christ’s disciples. Just as they were to reflect the holiness of God, we are called upon to reflect His holiness 1 Peter 1:16 teaches this. In fact Peter spends the entire 2nd chapter of that epistle reflecting on what this holiness should look like. Yet sometimes we, like David, give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. We don’t mean to. It’s not as if it was our desire to bring some element of reproach to the name of Christ. It certainly wasn’t what we intended. Things went too far. In a moment we failed to consider our holiness and our influence. Decisions were made that can’t be taken back. Our reputation has been damaged, and our light that should shine brightly before men flickers like a candle in the wind.
Matthew 18 teaches that it would be better to hang a millstone around your neck and be drowned in the sea then to cause a little one to stumble. Offenses will come, He confirmed, but woe to the man through which they come. It’s not that these lapses cannot be forgiven we have a faithful advocate in the Lord (I John 2:1-6), but it is true the scars for them go deeper than we plan. 2 Samuel 12:11-12
What do you think David would have done as he grieved for his infant son to take back his injury to God’s holiness? How great was his regret for his own misdeeds when he watched one of his sons defile his sister? How great was his sorrow as he wept over Absalom 2 Samuel 18:31-33. Sometimes the consequences down the road, though unintended, are greater than would seem fair. But such is the case for as we sow to the wind we reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
It is not merely that protecting our good name spares us from consequence, or even the weight of our influence that should be considered, but rather it should be the case that we pause and reflect that all that we do reflects upon the name of Him in whom we are called. It is His holiness that must shine before others, and it is ultimately His image that will bear the scars in the minds of the unrepentant that see our actions.