Monday, March 30, 2015

What’s in a Name?


The other day I was reading an article that said biblical names are declining in popularity. Aha. That’s why I haven’t heard of any babies lately being named Mephibosheth, Absalom, Hophni, Jereboam or Eliphelet! And given the ruthless reputation of Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18-21), it’s no wonder that’s not a name of choice in maternity wards around the nation. Who would want their child associated with such an evil person?

There’s no question a name can have tremendous impact. For instance, when you hear the name Ponzi, what comes to mind? If you’re not familiar with it, Charles Ponzi was a businessman and con artist who in 1920 swindled trusting investors out of $20 million by promising spectacular returns on their investments. Today, his name is often associated with similarly devious schemes.

We can think of other names throughout history that immediately conjure negative images – Hitler, Genghis Khan, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose. But names also can carry great positive meaning. If you think of a favorite relative, or someone you’ve worked with that was greatly admired, chances are that person’s name always brings a smile to your face and lifts your spirits.

This is why Proverbs 10:7 states, “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Another verse reinforces that idea: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

For a brief time, Charles Ponzi accumulated “silver and gold” at the expense of others, but to this day, his name is rotting, spoken with disdain and scorn.

It’s a sobering thought to wonder how people react when they mention or hear our own name. Do they utter it fondly, in a trusting or loving manner? Or do they want to spit it out, like a spoonful of bitter medicine?

So how can we gain – and maintain – a name worthy of being spoken? One way is by pursuing and seeking to uphold human virtues that most people value, such as integrity, humility, sincerity and compassion.

Galatians 5:22-23 offers a list of traits that would attract us to anyone. Having cited an array of distasteful behaviors, including sexual immorality, hatred, jealousy, fits of rage and selfishness, the passage declares, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….”

Most of us would agree these are worthwhile qualities, but we’d also be quick to admit they’re not easily lived out. “I’d like to be like that, but I fail to do so more times than I can count!”

The following verses offer the “secret” for being able to manifest those qualities in a consistent manner. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by (Christ’s) Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25).

What this tells me is that when it comes to living the so-called “Christian life,” holding to the standard of life God calls us to live, the reality is we can’t do it – not in our own strength. It’s beyond the capacity of what the Bible terms our “flesh,” our “sinful nature.” Instead, we have to rely on the power of Christ in us, agreeing with the apostle Paul when he wrote, “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

This is a simple truth – but one that demands an entire lifetime to learn, and relearn, and learn again. I know, because I’m still very much in the midst of the learning process.

Thankfully, I also have the assurance Paul cited in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” According to this, even when I mess up – which is often – God is saying, “Don’t worry, you’re right on schedule.” 

1 comment:

Bob Miller said...

Brother Bob,
Very helpful essay, Bob. For me I think that the reason we perceive that God is telling us not to worry is that Christ has satisfied the judgement we deserved for sin. Yes, we still mess up, but He said "it is finished" meaning there is now no condemnation for us (Rom 8). We are incredibly released and free from the captivity of sin and can ask God to forgive us through the Holy Spirit which is in us.

Bob Miller