Now this week, let’s move on to the second half of Psalm 23:3…
HE LEADS ME
Notice that David goes on to say in Psalm 23:3- “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
First of all, notice that David starts this sentence by saying, “He leads me…” Notice that there is no wavering in this. It is a matter of fact: Because the Lord was His Shepherd, he knew that He would lead him. This too needs to be our confidence - that the Lord will lead us. He will show us the right way to go. He will give us the directions we need.
The reason I make this point is because this is the first step to receiving direction from the Lord - believing you will receive it. Far too many Christians say things like, “I just don’t hear the voice of the Lord” or “I wish I was led by the Holy Spirit.” No, our profession should be that of, “Thank you Lord, that I do hear your voice because You said that I do! You said that you lead me, so I believe that you will.” (John 10:3). This, again, is the first step in the right direction - believing His Word.
However, we must understand why learning to be led by our Good Shepherd is so vital: It is because sheep are known to be dumb. And sometimes people don’t like to think this way. They’ll say, “Well, I’ll have you know, brother, I am extremely educated.” Yeah, in comparison to other sheep, you might be real smart; but in comparison to the shepherd, even the smartest sheep is considered dumb.
You see, it is known that if left unattended, sheep will utterly destroy the land that they inhabit by following their foolish nature. Therefore, they need to be led by a good shepherd. This is why the Scriptures tell us in Isaiah 53:6 that “we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each has turned to his own way.” But somebody help me here - what does the Bible say about us doing our own thing and going our own way? Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
You see, it is important for us to understand that these promises and provisions that we find in the 23rd Psalm are all subject to us being led by the voice of our Good Shepherd.
We see this fulfilled in Proverbs 3:5-6: Here He promises to make our paths smooth and straight (Literal definition of “direct our paths”) But what is it contingent on? Us not being “head-led.” No, I’m not talking about having a head as hard as led; I’m talking about leaning to our own understanding and being led by what we think, what we know, how we see things, etc. That will get you and I in trouble, church.
The way we are supposed to be living our lives is by “acknowledging Him in all our ways.” That literally means to know Him in everything we do - meaning, we are aware and cognizant of Him in every path we take and every step we make - listening on the inside of when and where to turn. This is today what we would call the Spirit-led life. But this also means that we do indeed “acknowledge” Him in all our ways - meaning, that we learn to acknowledge all the good things He does for us throughout our day. The Lord showed me that the more thankful and grateful we are for everything He’s done for us, the smoother and straighter our path will become. Amen.
And this is honestly one of the major reasons why we incur so many hard and crooked circumstances instead of smooth and straight paths. It is because we do not inquire of the Lord before we do things. We don’t acknowledge all that He has done for us. It is because we lean to our own understanding and do what seems right in our eyes. And again, what does the Bible say about doing what seems right in our own eyes? Its end is the way of death.
So, it is in our best interest to not be “head-led” but to be “Spirit-led.” This is how we can experience smooth and straight paths, paths of righteousness.
PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Now when David refers here to “paths of righteousness,” he is literally referring to “paths of rightness” or “right and just paths.” This is what “righteousness” really is.
Of course, most of these “right paths" which God has chosen for us are clearly marked out in His Word, and are the same for all sheep. No path of righteousness, for example, will ever pass through the field of adultery or fornication. No path of righteousness will ever travel over the ground of fear, lying, backbiting, hatred, etc. These road signs are unmistakable in Scripture and any of God’s sheep can read them! Therefore, these “paths of righteousness” that the Lord would “lead” us on will never contradict what He has said in the Scriptures.
For example, I have ministered to people who don’t fellowship with other believers and have withdrawn from the flock generally because they got offended or disagreed with something. Well, these Christians will swear up and down that the Lord has not led them to go anywhere, but that is a complete violation of Scripture. He told us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), so why would the Holy Spirit lead us to do something else? He wouldn’t.
But what about specific questions that apply only to me and not to the rest of the sheep - like decisions about where to go to church, who to marry, what job to take, etc.? Can these areas be included in the paths that the Lord has promised to lead us in? Absolutely! As we’ve seen in Proverbs 3:6, the Lord desires to direct us in all of our ways into smooth and straight paths (of righteousness).
Therefore, God is going to lead us on upright paths - that is, paths of being right and doing the right thing.
So, what specifically are these “right and just paths”? We have many Scriptures that refer to these “paths of righteousness.” Let me give you a few of them:
So, these “paths of righteousness” could certainly apply to the path of having our right standing with God revealed to us. It could also apply to paths of doing the right thing like practicing righteous deeds towards others. However, when it comes to this term “righteousness,” I believe sometimes we become a little too locked in to what we think righteousness is. Yes, there is the righteousness that we are freely given through our faith in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sure, there are those righteous deeds we are called to practice. But there is another side to righteousness too and that is what we are seeing here in these verses.
These paths of righteousness are more likely referring to the Lord leading us along paths of justice and rightness. In essence, the “paths of righteousness” is “God’s way of being and doing right”- whether that be His direction when we are under attack or His path of experiencing life and life more abundantly.
However, I believe David gave us his own commentary of what He meant in Psalm 23:3 over in Psalm 5:8- which says, “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies: make your way straight before my face.” So, here, David was wanting to be led in the paths of righteousness because of his enemies in order to have God’s way straight before him. In other words, the paths of righteousness here is the way of direction to be delivered from bloodthirsty and deceitful men (Psalm 5:6).
But let me remind you - it all starts with walking in righteousness - that is, walking uprightly and with integrity. We cannot separate us doing the right thing and receiving the righteousness & justice that is at the end of that path.
A good example of this in the life of David was when King Saul became his enemy. Through offense and jealousy, Saul persecuted young David time and time again. However, David never retaliated. He continued honoring the king and did not return evil for evil. This was David walking in righteousness. And we all know the end result: David eventually was given the throne and received righteousness and justice from his God.
But did you know that these “right and just paths” that David took are clearly marked out in His Word? So, not only is the answer to that question - How does God restore our souls? - the Word of God, but the answer to the question - How does He leads us on paths of righteousness? - also is the Word of God. So, let’s go over to James chapter one, because in it, we have the Lord leading us through our trials and temptations and into His righteousness:
STEPS TO RECEIVING RIGHTEOUSNESS & JUSTICE
Over in James 1:19-20, we have what I see as James’ summary of the things he was addressing in the first 18 verses of his epistle. It is important for us to realize this because far too often we take verses like this out of context and apply them to things that the author was in no way intending.
So, as we look back over these prior verses, we see James exhortations as revolving around the various trials we fall into and the perspective we are to have when we are being tempted:
“So then” we come to verse 19-20 which say, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Again, if you lift these two verses out of their context in chapter one, they will be almost impossible to correctly interpret. What do you think the phrase “swift to hear” might be referring to based on verse five? How about “slow to speak” based on verse thirteen? How about “slow to wrath” based on verse six & thirteen?
When James said to let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak I believe he was referring to not being so quick to let yourself speak rashly - accusing God of “allowing” these trials into your lives - but of being quicker to hear the wisdom that God has promised us in the face of our trials.
The “slow to wrath” admonition had to do with their anger at God (or just anger in general) because of the circumstances that they were experiencing. You see, when we start saying things like, “God, where are you?” or “Why are you allowing this in my life?” we are speaking in unbelief (see verse 6) and when we allow anger in our hearts like this, then verse twenty is the result…
The phrase in verse 20, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” shows us that getting angry about our circumstances does not result in God’s justice. In other words, this is exactly what James meant in verse seven when he said, “let not that man suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.” You see, getting into unbelief and blaming God for your problems will not produce God’s righteous deliverance from them.
THE GOOD PLANS OF OUR GOOD GOD
When I consider this truth, I am immediately drawn to one of our most loved verses, Jeremiah 29:11. In this beloved verse of so many, we have God’s heart concerning the plans He has for us. It says, “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Now it should be noted that the word “thoughts” in the beginning of this verse carries more of the idea of plans, purposes, or intentions. However, we know that in order to have a plan and purpose, you must first give thought to those plans and purposes, right?
So, the word “thoughts” is also a good word for us to consider because it shows that (as this Hebrew word is also translated in other passages of Scripture) God is “plotting, scheming and devising” a grand and glorious future for us! Amen? You know, when we hear words like to “plot, scheme and devise,” we usually gear towards the negative, but that is not the case here. In the mind of God, His “scheming” revolves around our blessing! In other words, God’s thoughts towards us are thoughts that conspire our good and welfare. Praise Jesus!
My friends, the mind of Christ is filled with wonderful plans, purposes and intentions for your life! He has a plan for you! You might not think He does; but He does! That’s why I believe it is significant how the first part of Jeremiah 29:11 is worded…
Notice again that the Lord says, “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord…” Why does He say, “For I know the thoughts…”? Evidently, it was because His people believed He was thinking something else! Did you know that this is still true today? So many of God’s people have a totally incorrect perception of what God is thinking about them. They think God is harsh, critical and fault-finding - always focused on our sin and shortcomings. This is why the Lord went on to say in Jeremiah 29:11 that the thoughts and plans that He knows He has for us are for peace and not of evil. Evidently this is exactly what His chosen people believed He was thinking about them - thoughts of evil. Nothing could be further from the truth! As we have already seen, the exact opposite is true!
You see, while God certainly is well aware of all of our faults and failures, He does not focus on the negative. No, in fact, God is focused more on our potential and His good plan for us than all of the ways that we fall short of His glory. Sure, we tend to focus on the negatives in people, but not God! No, 1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us that love thinks no evil. Amen! Other translations say, “(love) keeps no record of wrongs,” “(love) does not count the bad” and “it doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.” So listen - if God is love (1 John 4:8), then that means that God keeps no record of wrongs, He does not count the bad things in us, and He doesn’t keep score of our sins! Amen! In fact, the Scriptures teach us that our sins and lawless deeds He remembers no more (Hebrews 10:17)! Why? It’s because He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)!
So His thoughts, plans and purpose for us are of “peace” and not of evil… Now, of course, the word “peace” comes from the Hebrew word “shalom”- which means more than simply having an absence of conflict. Shalom describes “completeness, wholeness, soundness, success and welfare.” It basically describes having nothing missing and nothing broken in our lives. So we can see that God’s thoughts and plans for our lives involve making them complete, whole, sound, successful and with nothing missing and nothing broken! Amen!
So we have clearly seen God’s heart on the matter… He has good thoughts and plans for us! His purpose for us is to live lives that are complete, whole, sound - with nothing missing and nothing broken in them! This sounds to me like He has planned a good life for us. Amen and amen!
FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE
Finally, we are told that the Lord leads us in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.” So, what does this phrase mean - “for His name’s sake”? It is another way of saying, “for God’s reputation sake.”
So, if you interpret the paths of righteousness to mean God leading you to walk on the path of what is in agreement with His standards (i.e. living holy), then He is leading you to act becomingly to accurately represent Him. Or, if you interpret it to mean that He is leading us into or onto paths of justice and rightness, it is in order for us to clearly represent Him.
You see, God does some things for our name’s sake, but most things He does are for His own reputation’s sake. In other words, He does things like save, deliver, heal, etc. for the sake of His own reputation.
But herein lies the problem - most of us think God is going to do these things for our name’s sake. In other words, He will give us these blessings if we are being holy enough, praying a lot, in the Word, etc. God does things for His name’s sake, that is, in Jesus’ name, not our own. Yes, it’s not because we are good; it’s because He is good. It’s not because of our prayer life; it’s because of Jesus interceding on our behalf. Amen. It’s all for His name’s sake.
You see, while God certainly cares about our own name (i.e. our reputation), we need to understand that the things He does for us and through us are done for His name’s sake. In other words, we can expect that some of our needs and desires will be fulfilled because of who He is and for His purposes and not because of who are and what we do. That is a liberating truth!
So, what can we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us! He has made the provision for our souls to be restored because He is a God of restoration. He has given us His Word that does the work of restoration in our souls. He has also promised to lead us in paths of righteousness - providing us with deliverance from our enemies and justification on all fronts in our life. The key is letting Him lead us in these paths of righteousness. Amen? He does all of this “For His Name’s Sake”- not because of who we are or what we’ve done. He does it all because of who He is and what Jesus has done. Glory to God!