The Value of A Good Name
"Oh, I've heard of him/her" can be either a positive or negative statement, but it is loaded with meaning. Another phrase, "Your reputation proceeds you," is equally loaded. Both rely on a common understanding that we draw conclusions about people based on what we have heard of them. Our name, then, is synonymous with our reputation—and we cannot escape that fact, we can only lament it is we have ignored it.
"A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth" (Ecclesiastes 7:1). This proverb points to the importance of how we live our lives and how we are so defined. Wise choices and charitous actions create a status that is of greater lasting value than wealth (precious ointment). On the other hand, rebellious and willful choices create a status as well, but one not as precious. Solomon powerfully illustrates this by looking forward in time to the day of death. If one has lived a life of good repute, then that day of accomplishment is better than the day of birth. Why? Because when we are born, we have accomplished nothing—we have nothing to show for ourselves. We are all potential, no substance. But, over the course of one's life, we add substance to our being—to our name—and that gives meaning to our lives at the day of death and beyond. It determines whether we will be remembered fondly or with regret, or even remembered at all. And the key to all this is—as stated above—how we live our lives.
This brings to mind two inescapable facts. A good name must be established. None of us are given a life-long reputation. Maybe because of the good standing of our family we can start out with an advantageous name (or visa versa), but we will either destroy that or enhance that by the way we live. Jesus may have been born scandalously, but He proved Himself by His actions—" And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Since we come into this world with no personal reputation, we create one for ourselves each day that we live with each decision we make. We create a reputation that is honest or dishonest; caring or uncaring; dedicated to the Lord or not. Like it or not, but people based their judgments of us on these things. So, don't be surprised if you have stolen something and gone to jail when you have a hard time getting a job. Or, if you have a name that is not known for serving God, don't be stunned when the pretty, godly young lady or handsome young song leader isn't interested in dating you. So, work hard to create a name for yourself that you can find satisfied in; you do this by living a good, moral life.
A good name must be maintained. It is unlikely that Jezebel never did anything positive in her life, but if she did, no one remembered it. Demas (2 Timothy 4:10) had been one of Paul's closest traveling companions, but he threw that association—and his good name—away for the world. His reputation as a faithful Christian was no more. A good name is maintained by good works and faithful service as demonstrated by Dorcas (Acts 9:36), Phoebe (Romans 16:1), Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3-5) and countless others we have read about in scripture and personally known ourselves over the years. It is hard to re-establish a reputation that has been tarnished with sin or selfishness, but the good news is it is not impossible. Zacchaeus and Saul of Tarsus both did so, but only after they learned the importance of living the right way and having a name valued by God.
Here's the lesson of Ecclesiastes 7:1—live in such a way that good people think highly of you. Live so that your word and your actions carry meaning in the lives of others. And, live so that the funeral home will be full of those who will miss you at your death—not for your glory, but as a testimony of one who by God's grace established and maintained a good name.