Many in this world would disagree with God on this point. They would happily trade their names, reputations, and characters for a life of comfortable living. This, however, is a darkened perspective disseminated by a corrupt culture. The converted know that wealth can go no further than the grave, but their characters and good names pass through that barrier.
Wealth is physical, while character is spiritual. Which is more important to us? More importantly, which is more important to God? Whose character traits do we want to carry through the grave—our neighbors' or our God's? Jesus gives us the obvious answer in Mathew 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 1:14-16:
. . . as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy for I am holy.”
Peter's instruction has everything to do with God establishing His image in us, implanting within each of His children the riches of His holy character. It is God who orders life; His purpose for us stands in the face of all the adversity we may encounter. We must work to serve that purpose and avoid frustrating any of God's efforts. Servants like us have many duties, first to learn and then do, but our very first duty is to listen to our God. From Him flows wisdom, grace, and all the virtues we need to succeed in transforming into the image of Jesus Christ.
Of all that we need to do in preparing for the Kingdom of God, getting ourselves in alignment with God's character is most important. By ourselves, we do very little, but by faithfully following Christ, we will grow into His image. Yes, it can be difficult for us to change. But when we find we want to put off doing what we know we should do, we must cling to God, and He will lead us in the right direction. On that day when He calls His people to Him (Matthew 24:31), He will find us because we are like Him and He knows us (I John 3:2; II Timothy 2:19).
Character and Reputation
The word "name" translates from the Hebrew word sheem, which designates something as a mark or memorial of individuality, and by implication, honor, authority, or character. The King James Version (KJV) also translates it into "fame," "famous," "infamous," "named," "renown," and "report."
From this verse, we see that a good name (a combination of reputation and character) certainly should outweigh riches, prominence, position, and status. Conversely, a lack in either can leave us in a state of moral and/or spiritual poverty, seeking self-worth over godly worth.
An example of this can be seen in those who strive for political office or a promotion. They attempt to leave an impression of character with the public or a boss, but it is an impression built on a shaky foundation of duplicity. While they may have a "good" reputation, it is not supported by the real important ingredient, character, which is earned throughout our lives.
A starkly contrasting example of this is that of Jesus Christ as a man: "[He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). Christ—God Himself—humbled Himself, surrendering His right to a godly reputation, yet still left the legacy of righteous character and reputation as a human.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-8 gives another example of a good name, this time compared to that of fine ointment and life and death. The chapter starts with "A good name is better than precious ointment," but goes on to say "the day of death [is better] than the day of one's birth." Ointment, in this case, symbolizes a richness or excellence that is added to a person's state, or it may represent anointing oil used to set a person or thing apart as different or special. Verse 8 concludes, "The end of a thing is better than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."
In human terms, we know at birth we are a clean slate—we have no knowledge, understanding, wisdom, reputation, or character. Only at death, after lifelong endeavor, do we have the total life experiences to establish a good or bad name and reputation, and this occurs because of the character we have gained or failed to gain in the process.
For those who truly desire it, a good reputation and godly character are built patiently and not through devious or self-aggrandizing means. Based on this, reputation or a perceived good name is simply not enough without the character to accompany it.
Our Reputation, Our Character
On this verse, the Jewish commentary, Soncino, says that a person's good reputation, his name, is his most valuable asset. This is because of the integrity it took to produce it and the benefits it provides for one after he has it.
The Bible shows that God jealously guards His name and acts to ensure that it remains untarnished. His name represents what He is, and so it is with us as well. When we hear a name, images of what that person is immediately come to mind. In our mind's eye, we might recall a person as tall or short, male or female, learned or ignorant, black or white, angry or passive, beautiful or plain, vocal or quiet, honest or lying, responsible or irresponsible. Many character traits may flash through our minds in a moment or two.
The same happens to others as they think of us. What we project to others has everything to do with what we believe and practice. What kind of witness are we giving? Is what we believe and practice as true as God's Word?
Thus, if we want to have a good name in the eyes of God and man, we have to recognize truth, understand it and make it a part of us by submitting to it. This is where truth in a person's witness begins. If truth does not form the foundation of a person's life, the witness will reflect it.
Mankind—from Adam on—has been unwilling to do this. God says our "heart is deceitful above all things and [incurably sick (NKJV margin)]" (Jeremiah 17:9). We keep lying to ourselves and others, thus our name is not good before God. It means that to have this good name, we, as God's regenerated children, must face our vanities and stop deceiving ourselves that God will "just have to take us as we are." We need to quit blaming our failures, problems, and shortcomings on others, providing ourselves with justification for what we are and do.
Conduct is the "stuff" of which reputations are formed. Good conduct has truth at its foundation and integrity as its constant companion. From these two, a witness is produced. God wants our reputation before men to be built on His truth. Are we honestly doing this?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment (1997)
All members of God's church have inherited a Family name far more valuable than any surname. We have an awesome responsibility to uphold and honor the nobility and dignity of the name of God. The reputation we create for our church, our businesses, or our institutions is the legacy we pass on to our brothers and sisters and our children.
David F. Maas
What's in a Name Anyway?
A good reputation, based upon what a person is in his dealings with others, is certainly of greater worth in God's eyes than wealth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Proverbs 22:1:
1 Corinthians 12:13
1 John 3:23