You only have one.
I have no clue how many times my mother said that sentence to me. The subject of this “one” is my reputation. The importance of my character was something she was trying to instill into my young mind. “You only have one.”
She’s right. You only have one reputation and it’s very difficult to clean it once it has been soiled. My mother wasn’t the first person to utter this concept. It’s been spoken for thousands of years to millions (billions?) of people.
Perhaps the mother of King Solomon (Queen Bathsheba, the wife of King David) taught him this lesson too. And today we read it in Ecclesiastes 7:1–4 (NIV).
1 A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. 3 Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Paralleling the idea of Proverbs 22:1, the great teacher of Israel reminds us of the importance of our reputation. Our teacher—ultimately the Lord Himself—reminds us our “good name is better than fine perfume.” Literally, it’s better than “good oil”. In the ancient world in which King Solomon lived, an abundance of oil signified an abundance of wealth.
When we have a “good name”, we are wealthy in the commodity that matters most.
As much as we want to say, “I don’t care what people think”, the truth is we do and we should. Where we get sideways is when we elevate what anyone and everyone thinks about us over what the Lord would think of us.
This is why King Solomon instructs us there’s more to learn at a funeral than at a wedding or birthday celebration. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebration and that’s not the point of what Scripture is teaching here. Instead, it’s saying in terms of the whole of our lives, we must reflect on what will be said at the end of it.
As I say at every funeral I conduct, “One day, a person like me will be standing in a place like this and it will be your name on the program, your ‘Earth suit’ in a casket, and your life on display.” Where did I get that nugget from? While some of the phrases have come from my mentors, the seed of the idea is right here: Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.
While our culture encourages us to escape the harsh realities of our lives, Scripture encourages us to face them. One harsh reality is death. Its success rate is staggering: 1 out of 1—100%. We will ALL die. Yet, the fear of death remains one of our greatest fears. And it’s something we cannot avoid.
How we die, then, is as important as how we live.
Not the method of our expiration, but the sum total of the days we have on this earth. It’s not a quantity discussion. Instead, it’s a quality discussion.
It’s not “how long did we live?” It’s “how much life did we live?” The birth and death dates of our existence don’t matter nearly as much as the dash in between.
The summary of that “dash” is either the wealth of a good name or the poverty of a bad name. After all, you only have one.