September 21, 2014 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Now you are a real Bilynskyj!” That’s what the other three of us happily told our youngest
daughter Joanna one day when she was 6 or 7. She was cheerfully plowing along
through a chapter book. She had learned how to read. We saw reading and being a
reader as such a huge part of our family identity that it was even connected
with having our name.
Proverbs 22 starts out inviting us to consider the value and significance of a good name.
It’s to be preferred to riches. Of course in verse 1 “good name” means what we
call “reputation,” but in this chapter it’s connected with being well-raised in
a family and valuing what the family values. We can unpack several of these
Proverbs as ways to either have a good name or to ruin it.
To begin with, verse 2
suggests that a good name has very little to do with whether you are rich or
poor. In C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, Aslan addresses a young man who
has just learned that his ancestors were pirates. He feels like his family has
lost its honor and that his name is ruined. So Aslan tells him, “You come from
the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honour enough to erect the
head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the
greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” As Proverbs says here, it’s enough to
be made by the Lord, to be His creation, His children. That’s a good enough
name for anyone.
We don’t need to worry
about the name with which we start out, whether it’s rich or poor, noble or
humble, popular or unknown. But we do need to worry about what we do with that
name, whether we will carry it with grace and honor, or whether we will drag it
through the dirt.
I just read a review
of Liam Neeson’s latest film, his fourth action flick in a row playing the
similar-only-slightly-different role of a quick-witted, hard-hitting character
who won’t rest until he’s brought the bad guys to justice. After a long and
varied career with excellent dramatic roles in “The Mission,” “Les Miserables,”
and “Schindler’s List,” to name a few, he’s let his name start to become
synonymous with “action hero” and his career to be associated with mediocre
films full of violence. He’s let his good name slide.
Verse 3 tells us that
“The clever see danger and hide; but the simple go on, and suffer for it.” That
danger includes the risk of letting your good name, your good reputation, slip
when you get involved in activities or associate with people who can only make
you look bad. Verse 5 warns us against “thorns and snares” that cautious people
will avoid. One of those snares is the temptation to sacrifice a good name for
You may say an actor
like Liam Neeson who takes a less than stellar role or who shows up in some
silly advertisement, like William Shatner making a fool of himself for
Priceline, is just doing it for the money. We should say it about ourselves
when we engage in dealings toward the gray part of the spectrum. But gray deals
are not necessary. According to verse 4, humility and fear of the Lord will
provide “riches and honor and life.” You don’t need to ruin your name and
reputation to have everything you need, as long as you understand what you really need.
We follow a Savior
whose humility and respect for God the Father got Him hung on a cross, before
He was raised from the dead. “Riches and honor and life” for Christians means
something more spiritual and eternal than a big bank account or your name on a
donor list for a charity or making it to 95 years old. It’s the riches of God’s
love and the honor of being a child of God and the hope of being raised up
again with Christ to live with Him forever.
For our daughters,
being a Bilynskyj meant learning to read and going fishing and liking bacon.
That’s how we brought them up and as verse 6 may suggest, they haven’t departed
from any of those things. Yet Beth and I would admit that not everything
implied by this well-known verse, “Train children in the right way, and when
they are old, they will not stray,” has happened for our daughters. Our
youngest is still an avid reader, but she’s not so much an avid follower of the
It’s helpful for us,
then, and maybe for you to remember that proverbs are not guarantees, not unconditional,
hundred per cent warranties provided by God as long as you use His products
according to the instructions. My friend Jay has a prayer list of prodigals,
children of good Christian friends who have strayed from the faith. One of his
own sons is on his list. Now our Joanna is too.
Jay and Jan, Beth and
I, and all the other parents represented by Jay’s prayer list would be the
first to admit that we were not perfect parents. But commenting on this verse
my friend Paul Koptak says that “It should never be interpreted so caring
parents whose offspring give up the faith or get in trouble are at fault.” That’s comforting. Just like verse 4 doesn’t mean every humble God-fearing
person will be rich and esteemed in this world, verse 6 doesn’t mean every
child of loving, believing parents will become a model Christian.
Verse 6 does mean that it’s still better to start children out right. In fact, that “right
way” or “way he should go” is literally “at the beginning of his way.” Again my
friend Paul says he thinks this “proverb speaks not so much of early childhood
training as of the initiation to adulthood and the teaching of its expectations
and responsibilities.” It may be more about children like Gabe whom we’ve prayed off to college this
morning than about the little ones in our nursery and Sunday School.
Part of teaching the
expectations of adulthood to young people is reminding them to guard their
reputation, their good name which perhaps they’ve received already at home and
at church and among their friends. For the past ten years of the existence of
Facebook, we’ve seen what happens when young and older people both post their
every stupid thought or careless action on-line for the world to see and hear.
Good names are ruined before they get started. Job prospects are lost before a
person even begins looking, just because he or she or a friend posted photos of
a crazy night out on social media.
It’s not all about
money, not just about getting a good job or making sound investments, but this
chapter, like many in Proverbs, does tell us several times that the way a
person handles money is a sign of the kind of name, the sort of reputation a
person has. So verse 8 reminds us that careless use of money, excessive
borrowing, is going to turn you into a slave. Many of us may have had that
feeling at times, that we’re just working to pay the bank or the mortgage or
credit card company. And “slave” is not a name anyone wants.
Money is also the
subject of verse 9, which encourages us to have a name, a reputation for
generosity. Verse 16 warns us that taking money from the poor and giving it to
the rich, like Robin Hood in reverse, is only going to lead to loss. I would
say it’s at least in part the loss of a good name. Do you want to have
reputation for exploiting the poor? Then don’t do business in a way that takes
advantage of them.
Back to the subject of
child-rearing, we come to verses I’d frankly like to skip. I did skip Proverbs 13:24, skipped that whole chapter back in July. “Those who spare the rod hate
their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.” Verse
15 of our present chapter tells us “Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy,
but the rod of discipline drives it far away.” Last week I noticed rather
spirited on-line discussion about whether we should spank children or not. Talking
about these verses is a bit daunting.
First, though, note
that verse 8 gives us an immediate caution about too much enthusiasm for
corporal punishment, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of
anger will fail.” Excessive discipline done in anger is sure to turn out badly.
Common sense and experience tell us that teaching a child what’s right may not
guarantee she will do it, but constantly beating a child will pretty much
guarantee he will turn out bad.
We need to be careful about
how we understand these verses about “the rod.” That familiar saying, “Spare
the rod and spoil the child,” is not in the Bible. Yes, it’s related to Proverbs 13:24, but it’s actually from a 17th century satirical poem by Samuel
Butler and in the poem it’s not about raising children at all and has kinky
sexual overtones to boot. So it might be good to note the word for “rod” in
Hebrew can mean a stick, but it also can mean a shepherd’s staff or a king’s
scepter or some other symbol of authority. A shepherd’s staff can discipline by
drawing a sheep back to where it should be. A scepter is a sign that a king’s
word is to be obeyed.
So we might have
different opinions about whether to slap the hand of a toddler who is reaching
for the hot stove or whether to swat him when he runs headlong for the street.
But we will all agree that he needs measured, loving discipline done with
authority if he’s going to learn what is safe and right and good. Lack of
discipline will lead to a bad name, will lead to the kind of laziness pictured
in verse 13 by a person who refuses to go to work because of an imaginary lion
in the streets.
As many of you have
probably experienced, having a good name has something to do with your friends,
with whom you know. It’s that whole business of name-dropping, like me telling
you that I got to shake the hand of Charlton Heston once at a Boy Scout
banquet, or an attorney friend who had a picture of himself shaking hands with
the older President Bush. Your name is enhanced by connection with the name of
an important person. So verse 11 tells us how to have that connection, “Those
who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech will have the king as a
Most of us, though,
aren’t going to meet many movie stars or presidents, and no matter how
pure-hearted or gracious we are, it’s even more unlikely they will be our
friends. That’s why the next verse, number 12, points us toward God as the king
whose friendship we want to cultivate. He is going to “keep watch” over the
wise things we say, and toss overboard whatever is foolish and faithless. It’s
the loving friendship of our heavenly king that is ultimately going to
determine our place and reputation in His kingdom.
Yet our parable today
suggests that friendship with God the king depends less on who we are and what
we do than it does on who He is, on His own good name. In one of Jesus’ most
challenging stories He teaches us that God is gracious and good in the same way
to anyone who comes to Him, no matter how much or how little they deserve it. A
lifetime of faithfulness receives the same gracious reward as a deathbed
repentance for a life of sin. The Lord’s name, the Lord’s reputation is for
grace. The only question is whether we want to have His name, whether we will
receive and practice that same grace and let that be our own reputation.
Many years ago when we
were getting ready to register a domain name for Valley Covenant’s web site, we
discussed it in our church council and selected the pretty straightforward,
valleycovenant.org. But one council member, Ted Smith, wanted another name, one
that really named what we are about. So at Ted’s urging we also registered the
domain GodsGrace.org, as a way to identify our true Christian identity in the
on-line world. So you can find us today at either www.valleycovenant.org or
Over the years, as
domain names got snatched up and good ones got harder to find, we’ve received
several offers to buy GodsGrace.org. Verse 1 applied to that too, “A good name
is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Not that we would have made much
money selling that domain, but that it’s important for us to hold onto a name
that really represents the kind of people we want to be, sinners saved by grace
who are showing grace to each other and to the world.
In God’s kingdom a
good name is not about being perfectly holy or great spiritual accomplishments.
It’s about receiving the grace and thus the name of our Lord. There is grace in
this place. That’s our good name. If you’ve been divorced, we won’t beat you
up. If you struggle with depression, we don’t think you’re a spiritual failure.
Thanks be to God, if you’re having problems with your kids, we just want to
love you and help you. Our name is grace, because that’s the name of our Savior
So when in our lesson
from Philippians 1:27 Paul tells his readers to “live in a manner worthy of the
Gospel of Christ,” he’s not really telling us to be perfect little children
with no struggles. In fact, he says struggles are just part of the deal.
Instead he’s asking us to live up to the Gospel, which is all about grace,
about being forgiven and forgiving others, about showing the same kind of
loving kindness to everyone, deserved or not. That’s the kind of reputation we
want to have, the good name which is more precious than riches.
Let me pause for a
moment and note that we’ve come the end of the longest section of Proverbs, the
proverbs of Solomon. Verse 17 has a heading in the verse, “The words of the
wise.” Those other headings you probably find in your Bible, the ones in bold
italics centered at the top of a section, are not part of the original. Those
were added by the translators and publishers of your Bible. So it’s more
important to pay attention to the section headings Scripture actually gives
itself, inside the text, which here tells us that we are going on to proverbs
offered by wise people other than Solomon.
If you glance down to
verse 20, you will probably read that there are thirty of these sayings here.
If you picked up a TNIV Bible at the back, it even marks off those thirty
sayings through the next couple chapters, each a verse or two or three or more
long. I’m not completely sure, but what I’ve read tells me that’s not right.
The word in verse 20 doesn’t actually mean “thirty.” It means “three days ago.”
Thirty is a guess based on comparison with a collection of Egyptian proverbs.
No one agrees on how to divide the thirty sayings.
By “three days ago” we
should understand a reference to what’s gone before. These are sayings that recap
and review what we’ve learned in Proverbs already. But like any good review
they are going to reinforce and deepen what we’ve learned. As we’ll see, they
often take the wisdom of Proverbs and get very specific and practical, like in
verse 24, “do not associate with hotheads,” or verse 28 that tells us to
respect ancient property rights.
But the most important
point that is repeated and reviewed and is said over and over in Proverbs is in
verse 19. The whole point of wisdom, of learning these proverbs, is “So that
your trust may be in the Lord.” Don’t trust in wealth. Don’t trust in yourself.
As we learned yesterday on our e-mail prayer network, don’t trust what you read
on the Internet. Don’t even trust ultimately in others. That’s why we get
warned about bad friends. Trust in the Lord. Trust in His gracious love and
forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ has the
good name. He gives that name freely and graciously to anyone who wants it and
will wear it. It’s your name as a Christian. Take that good name, cherish it,
live it, and trust in it.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj