Making a Name for Ourselves
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4, ESV)
How much of the world’s problems come from that insidious desire we humans have to make a name for ourselves? On first glance, the tower of Babel episode in Genesis 11 can be confusing. Why is God determined to stop these people from the simple act of building a tower? What was their sin? It was the selfish and prideful desire to make a name for themselves.
This is one of the desires of our flesh we must put to death by the Spirit (Romans 8:13), even if it takes a lifetime. While it is likely that young people are more susceptible to this particular vice, it does not discriminate. You can find it in the business owner who puts all his energy and money into gaining a reputation for his company. You can find it in the young professional, climbing the ladder, seeking to be known as an expert in their field. You can find it in so many young people today who long to be an Instagram influencer, or to have a YouTube channel so popular it will be their main source of income. We want to be known. We want to make a name for ourselves. But the Bible provides us with a wonderful corrective.
When we go to Scripture, we find that God is the only one who has the right to make a name for himself. Making a name for ourselves sets us in opposition to God and his purposes. In Psalm 138:2, David says to God, “You have exalted above all things your name and your word.” Everything God does, he does to glorify himself, and he does not share glory with anyone or anything (Isaiah 42:8). For anyone else, this would be sinful vanity. But not for God. It is fitting and proper for God to exalt himself as he is the only perfect and praiseworthy being in the universe. Furthermore, having created us with hearts that can only be satisfied in him, exalting his own name toward his creatures is actually the most loving thing God could do for us.
Therefore, we also find in Scripture that our job as human beings is to magnify God’s name, not our own. “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1) As we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, we are to let him decide if anyone knows our name or not. At times, God will decide, for his own good purposes, to make someone’s name great. He told both Abraham and David that he would do this for them (Gen. 12:2; 2 Sam. 7:9). Others he will keep in obscurity. It is for us to pursue the humble heart of John the Baptist, who said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
If we will seek first God himself, and the fame of his name, he will take care of the rest. When friends kept pressuring George Whitefield to respond to the way his critics were falsely slandering him in the press, Whitefield responded by saying, “I am content to wait till the judgment day for the clearing up of my character. When I am dead I desire no epitaph but this: ‘Here lies G.W. What kind of man he was the great day will discover.’”* His only concern was the name of God. He knew his own did not matter.
Ultimately, our treasure and contentment comes not from being known by the world, but from being known by its maker and ruler. J.I. Packer, in his excellent book Knowing God, writes, “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it-the fact that he knows me.”**
To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Rev. 3:12, ESV)
You can make a name for yourself, or you can receive God’s name and the name of his Son Jesus Christ. Choose wisely, for God has bestowed on Christ the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9), and there is no other name by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). *Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, two-volume biography (vol. 1, p. 6-7). Banner of Truth. **J.I. Packer, Knowing God (p. 45). InterVarsity Press.