The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
Obviously, there are a good many profound truths to be found in these three verses, but I would specifically like to draw your attention to the last part of verse 3. David says of the Lord, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
These verses describe Jesus as the shepherd and Christians as His sheep. Christ’s name isn’t actually used in the verses, but He certainly had this passage in mind when He said in John 10:11,14,27: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
And so, Jesus leads Christians in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His own name. If I can get this one truth burned into your mind I will have accomplished something. Jesus leads Christians in the paths of righteousness so that His very name will not be besmirched, soiled, or damaged.
Does walking in the paths of righteousness help the individual Christian? Of course, it does. Does a Christian walking in the paths of righteousness make the world a better place? Of course, it does. But I’m not talking about those ideas right now. Right now I’m hammering on the fact that Jesus leads Christians in the paths of righteousness for the purpose of protecting His own name.
In your mind’s eye, I want you to go with me back to a scene in ancient Israel. Let’s tag along and watch as a local shepherd leads a flock of sheep. As we walk along behind the shepherd, we observe that he seems to be doing an adequate job of leading his sheep. Now it is time, though, for the sheep to eat, and we are interested in how the shepherd will handle that need. We are also aware that once the sheep have filled their stomachs they will want to lie down and rest a while.
With this in our minds, we watch as for some unknown reason the shepherd leads the sheep right past a beautiful, green pasture that would provide perfect food and rest for the sheep. The shepherd seems to have another place in mind as he leads the flock onward. Finally, he brings them to an almost barren, rocky piece of ground. There are just a few sparse patches of grass growing here and there. This is where the shepherd has been headed all along.
The sheep try to eat, but there isn’t enough grass to fill their stomachs. Pretty soon they give up and lie down. They don’t get much rest, though. The ground is far too hard and rocky.
After watching this, we begin to wonder about the shepherd’s judgment. Still, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and so we wait around until it is time for him to again put the sheep on the move. The sheep have had their time of eating and resting. Now it is time for them to get some water.
We tag along as the shepherd leads the sheep to an outstanding watering-hole. The waters are still and quiet. We’ve heard that sheep don’t like rushing waters. They can’t swim very well and are terrified of swift currents. Sheep like calm, still, quiet waters. This hole is just right.
But the shepherd shakes his head in disapproval. In his opinion, these waters won’t do. Onward he leads the sheep. Eventually, there is the sound of a rushing stream and the shepherd picks up his pace. He gets to the swift stream, brings the sheep to the water’s edge, and waits for them to start drinking.
The sheep, however, are overly cautious. They won’t go near the dangerous current. Their fear keeps them from getting the water that at this point they desperately need.
After a while, the shepherd realizes that the sheep aren’t going to drink the water, and so he begins again with his leading. The sheep are hungry and tired because the shepherd walked past the green pastures. They are thirsty because he shunned the quiet waters. It’s obvious to us that the sheep need to be refreshed, revived, and restored. Still, the shepherd pushes them onward.
We follow close behind, by now completely bewildered at the shepherd’s actions. Over the remaining course of the day, we watch as he leads those sheep to places that sheep have no business going. He leads them in precarious paths that run along the edges of cliffs. He leads them in dangerous paths that run by places where lions are known to suddenly attack. He leads them in rough paths that run through ditches and briars. Finally, we have seen enough and make our way back to town.
Once we get into town, a man comes up to us and says, “You are the people who tagged along and watched the shepherd lead his flock. Tell me, what did you think of his shepherding?” Having seen what we’ve seen, what must our answer be? We have to say that the shepherd doesn’t know how to care for sheep. We have to say that he is dangerous for sheep. We have to say that he is not to be trusted with sheep. The fact of the matter is, it is absolutely impossible for us to recommend that fellow as a shepherd. We explain this to the man who asked our opinion, and our critical words begin making their way through the town. Pretty soon, the shepherd’s reputation is ruined.
Now let’s come back to the present day. I ask you, Christian, what kind of a reputation as a shepherd does Jesus desire to have amongst the people of this world? The answer is, He wants to be known as a good shepherd. Well, how can He gain such a reputation? To gain it, He must lead us, His sheep, in the paths of righteousness. Therefore, Christian, you’ve got to realize that when you display depravity, when you persist in sin, when you fall short of holiness, when you forego paths of righteousness, you damage not only your name but also Christ’s name.
You see, as the lost people of this world watch the everyday conduct of professing Christians, it is Christ’s reputation as a shepherd that is on the line. We mar the very name of our Savior whenever we refuse to allow Him to lead us in paths of righteousness. That is a sobering thought.
Now, maybe you would say to me, “Wait a minute, Russell. I am a Christian, but I don’t always follow Christ as I should. It isn’t right, then, for Christ’s name to be soiled when He isn’t the one leading me in paths of sin.” You make a good point. The people of this world shouldn’t hold it against Jesus when a Christian refuses to live in a holy manner. But the problem is that the people of this world don’t really understand that Christ will not lead rebellious sheep. They don’t differentiate between the Christian who is living a holy life and the Christian who is backslidden. All they know is that both kinds of Christians profess to have Christ as shepherd.
Is this fair? No. Is it reality? Yes. Your fellow Christians may understand that Christ is not the leader He can be if you aren’t the follower you ought to be, but the lost people of this world won’t. That’s why, Christian, when you stand up and say to others, “Jesus Christ is my Savior,” you’d better do all that you can to ensure that you walk in those paths of righteousness.