Solomon has spent six chapters describing life in some of its darkest shades. “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men.” Actually there are lots of evils under the sun – and hiding from the sun – which the news throws into our faces night after night. But with this chapter Solomon sees just a hint of sun beginning to dawn in eastern sky. There is a slight bit of optimism. He is not out of the woods, and there are still lots of roots and branches trying to trip and knock him down. He is still delirious with the fever of depression. But it is beginning to break under the Great Physician’s marvelous medicines.
One of the good things under the sun is a good name.
What’s in a name, or what is it about a good name?
Of course this is not whether we go by “Dave” or “David.” It’s not whether “Erik” or “Kraig” are spelled with a “c” or a “k.” It’s not about “Steve” or “Steven” spelled with a “v” or a “ph.” Solomon is talking about a good reputation – something which lays behind the name. It’s not about the name printed on the Driver’s Licence. It is more about what the policeman is going to find when he enters it into his in-car computer.
I won’t argue the fact that reputations can be deceiving – they can be connived and contrived. But in this case I am referring to a genuine reputation which has been built upon character. How do you want to be known to your neighbors – to your family – to your God? Do want to be known as great athlete, as the most popular, or as the funniest person around? Possessing a BIG name is not the same as having a GOOD name.
What is a good name? Of course Solomon didn’t have a copy of Philippians 4:8, but if he had he might have pointed to it. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Meditate on these things with a desire to discover them and implement them. A good name includes such things as – honesty, diligence, integrity, love, piety and generosity.
As an illustration – what makes a good body? A good body requires a head which can think reasonably well, and a heart which works just as well. A person’s liver must function well. He must have at least one good kidney, along with a few other necessary parts. Furthermore they must function together as a unit, or the body will not be healthy; the body is not well. And what makes up a good name?
Whatever it is, Solomon says that a good name is extremely valuable.
It is more precious than ointment. Here we come to one of the problems in applying the Word of God to our 21st century lives. What we consider valuable might have meant nothing to Solomon, and the reverse is equally true. Some people think their smart phones are the most valuable things they possess. But to the man with heart disease, it might be that daily pill which he takes. And for Solomon, it was perhaps spikenard or frankincense. While for me, such lotions and ointments mean nothing.
What determines something’s value? I think I’ve asked that question recently. Aren’t some things valuable because they are rare? I just finished reading an interesting book on man’s search for gold; it was a fascinating read. Sometimes the more rare something is, the more valuable it is. During the mid 1800s more gold was discovered than at any previous time in history, and the price of gold fell slightly.
How rare is a good name? Do you know the name Vladimir Putin? The name belongs to a famous man – the current leader of Russia. When you hear his name do you think of Philippians 4:8? When you hear “Donald Trump” do you think of “purity,” “beauty,” “virtue” and “praise”? Solomon would say that a good name is more important than to be president of Russia, or president of the United States. In fact a good name is precious because it is hard to find – like spikenard or frankincense. That is true of any name, but it might be especially true when the name is famous.
I have read that a pound of good spikenard is quite costly. With hard work and a little savings, l could buy any perfume I wanted to buy – even frankincense. If my wife wanted some Chanel Grand at $4,200 an ounce, and if she was patient I could eventually get her a few drops. And I am sure Judy and Chanel would smell very good together. Any precious ointment can be bought, if someone has the money. But a good name which has been lost, cannot be purchased at any price. If I put on a little after shave, is scent lasts for a few hours and goes away. But when the dog is doused in skunk oil that stench lasts almost for ever.
The more often ointment is used the more quickly it appears to be gone, but the more a good name is used, the better and stronger it becomes. And this is the way both halves of this verse tie together. At death a good name is all the more dear – and it may keep on living for a long time.
A good name is honourable in its possession. Anyone can own a fancy car, but that criminal who has bought his with drug money, doesn’t deserve it. And we might be able to rent a limousine for a night, but that doesn’t mean we are rich people. But a good name is different – it is deserved by the people who carry it. For this reason it is the index of truer wealth and the mark of higher dignity.
A good name is more satisfying in its enjoyment than precious ointment. A bit of perfume may give a few moments of pleasure and to have someone notice it might be nice. But what does it really mean? Usually, when I put on a little cologne, I recognize it for only a few minutes. It may be there for an hour or more, but I notice it for only a little while before I grow accustomed to it. Unlike cologne a good name comes from the heart, not from the skin. To have neighbors who appreciate you because you are worthy of that appreciation, is a joy.
Have you ever given any thought to the age of the great men and women in the Word of God? Many of them were up there in years – Daniel, Abraham, Moses and John the beloved. Many of them had earned their good names through the passage of time. I admit that there are exceptions; and I praise God for some young exceptions. But generally speaking a good name is earned over time and maintained through time.
Okay, a good name is good, but how can I get one?
That new born baby may be given the name of a beloved relative. She may have a good name in one sense, but in another she has to earn it. After a decade or so, people will picture that little girl before they remember her original name-sake. As students of the Bible, we know that little girl was born in iniquity and depravity. Only a miracle of God can bring a truly clean thing out of an unclean thing. If we have a good name, in the sense that Solomon is using the term, it means that God has graciously stepped in and applied His own special precious ointment.
A good name begins at the cross of Calvary where the Lord enters into a covenant of grace with us. Of course, we believe that the BEST life is the CHRISTIAN life. But usually when we say that, we are thinking about life from our point of view. For me, this Christian life is better than any other life, or lifestyle, I might have chosen to live.. But it should also be true from the perspective of everyone else. I hope my neighbors to the east think of me more highly than they do their neighbors on their other side. Your name should be held in more esteem to your employers than any employers they have had – outside of Christ.
Might it not be said that Philippians 4:8 could be a summary of character of Christ Himself? The character of Christ is what the Lord wants to find in us. There is no better name than His, and that name should be a part of ours. “Not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” A good name is maintained through a cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the saint of God. It is maintained when it gets a little tarnished and we take the polish of repentance to correct it. The world may laugh at the man who attends the house of God regularly, but the Lord’s opinion of our name is more important than that other man’s opinion.
A good name is something toward which we have to work. We must constantly attempt to improve our relationship with others. Some Christians seem to try just the opposite – destroying contacts with others, especially when they consider them to be sinners.
Few of us are rich in the things of the world, but we have as much wealth in time as the billionaire. We may not have all the energy and skill as some others, but we have some of both. If we wish to have a good name before others, we need a bit of selfless usefulness. When there is an opportunity to be a blessing to someone, be that blessing – as heartily as you can. Be faithful and diligent in the tasks that you have been given.. “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”