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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Proverbs 22
“Good Names”
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 profit.

         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 Lord.

         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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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 friend.”

         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, 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, as a way to identify our true Christian identity in the on-line world. So you can find us today at either or

         Over the years, as domain names got snatched up and good ones got harder to find, we’ve received several offers to buy 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 Jesus Christ.

         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
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

[1] The NIV Application Commentary: Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 517.

[2] Ibid., p. 518.

Last updated September 21, 2014