Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Good Name: The Best Fruit

The master, Jesus, said that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. So what is good fruit? A better question still might even be what is the best fruit? How do we measure success in life? Or can success in life even be measured? Are great riches and financial prosperity success? No, they are not success; but they are good success indicators. They indicate success, but may be had by means other than following God's commandments. Thus Ahab was able to get Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-29). But the vineyard was not an indicator of success for Ahab (or rather it was the indicator of a short-lived success that would end in defeat). For Naboth the vineyard was an indicator of success, but for Ahab the same vineyard was an indicator of eventual defeat. Thus we must understand that an abundance of worldly goods is only an approximate indicator in this life.

The Bible sets forth one indicator of success that stands above all others: a good name. "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches; and favor rather than silver or gold" (Prov. 22:1). The supreme example of a good name is that of Jesus. His good name was given to him by God as a reward for successful service throughout his life and finally on the cross. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). Peter declared that it was not only by his name that men were healed, but also that it is the only name by which we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12).

Men know instinctively the value of a good name and will often attempt to get a good name even as covenant-breakers. So in Genesis 11:4 men said, "Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Men seek a legacy; a name that will be known and remembered. This striving after a name may be nothing more than pride; but it is important to remember that God regards a good name as more than simply fame and that seeking a good name is more than mere pride.

Qoheleth regarded being forgotten as a curse or vanity; an affliction to be avoided. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccl. 1:4); "there is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after" (Eccl. 1:11); "for there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit" (Eccl. 2:16-17).

Genuine success in this life is the same as success in the next life: it consists in conforming our lives to God's law by the power of his grace. Money is not success, but it is an indicator of success. Fame is not success, but it too is an indicator of success. A good reputation is not success, but it may well be the best indicator we have of success. There are typically sanctions (positive for obedience and negative for disobedience) regarding how successful we are in conforming our lives to the law of God. The more successful we are at covenant-keeping, the more success indicators we will have in our lives. The less successful we are at covenant-keeping, the fewer success indicators we will have and will likely have failure indicators instead.

There is an excellent passage in Scripture that speaks to this very issue: Deuteronomy 28. The blessings that God speaks of in the passage are really nothing other than indicators of how successful we have been at keeping God's covenant.

"And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field," Deut. 28:1-3. The blessings are the indicators; the success lies in keeping God's covenant.

Biblically speaking, i.e. covenantally speaking, blessings are marks of success and curses are marks of failure. We must never confuse reward with duty. Covenant-keeping is the duty; one at which we are told to excel (Matthew 5:17-20). The blessings of this life and the next are the rewards of covenant-keeping.

So, what kind of a name do you have? That of a covenant-keeper or that of a covenant-breaker? What kind of name should you be seeking after?


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