Paths of Righteousness

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Psa. 23:3 π Prov. 14:12 π Prov. 16:25 π Isa. 28:9-13 π Isa. 53:6 π Mt. 20:25-28 π Mk. 8:34 π Jn. 10:1 π Jn. 10:8 π Jn. 10:10; 2nd π Jn. 14:6 π 1 Cor. 3:1-4 π Eph. 4:11-12 π 2 Ths. 2:9-12 π 1 Tim. 3:1-13 π Tit. 1:5-9 π Heb. 13:17 π Rev. 3:17-22

"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." ( Psa. 23:3; top )

Quotes From a Shepherd

Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites. Many of the world's finest sheep ranges have been ruined beyond repair by over-grazing, poor management and indifferent or ignorant sheep owners...
A commonly held, but serious misconception about sheep is that they can just "get along anywhere." The truth is quite the reverse. No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction, than do sheep...
Because of the behavior of sheep and their preference for certain favored spots, these well-worn areas become quickly infested with parasites of all kinds. In a short time a whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes, and scab. The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted, and sickly... Such habits, in themselves, comprise very serious hazards.
The greatest single safeguard which a shepherd has in handling his flock is to keep them on the move. That is to say, they dare not be left on the same ground too long. They must be shifted from pasture to pasture periodically. This prevents over-grazing of the forage. It also avoids the rutting of trails and erosion of land from over-use. It forestalls the re-infestation of the sheep with internal parasites or disease, since the sheep move off the infested ground before these organisms complete their life cycles.
In a word - there must be a pre-determined plan of action, a deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of sound management. This is precisely the sort of action and the idea David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness...
A point worthy of mention here is that whenever the shepherd opens a gate into a fresh pasture the sheep are filled with excitement. As they go through the gate even the staid old ewes will often kick up their heels and leap with delight at the prospect of finding fresh feed. How they enjoy being led onto new ground...
Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.
First of all Scripture points out that most of us are a stiff-necked and stubborn lot. We prefer to follow our own ways. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." ( Isa. 53:6; top ) And this we do deliberately, repeatedly even to our own disadvantage. There is something almost terrifying about the destructive self-determination of a human being. It is inexorably interlocked with personal pride and self-assertion. We insist we know what is best for us even though the disastrous results may be self-evident.
Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies, so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives.
Turning to "my own way" simply means doing what I want. It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas. And this I do in spite of every warning.
We read in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25; top , "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."
In contrast to which, Christ the Good Shepherd comes gently and says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." ( Jn. 14:6; top ) "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." ( Jn. 10:10; top )
The difficult point is that most of us don't want to come. We don't want to follow. We don't want to be led in the paths of righteousness. Somehow it goes against our grain. We actually prefer to turn to our own way even though it may take us straight into trouble.
The stubborn, self-willed, proud, self-sufficient sheep that persists in pursuing its old paths and grazing on its old polluted ground will end up a bag of bones on ruined land. The world we live in is full of such folk. Broken homes, broken hearts, derelict lives and twisted personalities remind us everywhere of men and women who have gone their own way. We have a sick society struggling to survive on beleaguered land. The greed and selfishness of mankind leaves behind a legacy of ruin and remorse.
Amid all this chaos and confusion Christ the Good Shepherd comes and says, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself daily, and take up his cross, and follow Me." ( Mk. 8:34; top ) But most of us, even as Christians, simply don't want to do this. We don't want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions - we don't want to follow; we don't want to be led.
Of course, most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it. We would assert vehemently that we are "led of the Lord." We would insist that we would follow wherever He leads. We sing songs to this effect and give mental assent to the idea. But as far as actually being led in paths of righteousness is concerned, precious few of us follow that path.
Actually this is the pivot point on which a Christian either "goes on" with God or at which point he "goes back" from following on.
There are many willful, wayward, indifferent, self-interested Christians who cannot really be classified as followers of Christ. There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master.
Jesus never made light of the cost involved in following Him. In fact He made it painfully clear that it was a rugged life of rigid self-denial. It entailed a whole new set of attitudes. It was not the natural, normal way a person would ordinarily live and this is what made the price so prohibitive to most people. (Philip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23)

I am always delighted when I find the deeper truths of Christ contained within someone's writings. In this case, Keller, an experienced shepherd, examines, in some detail, what the phrase "He leads me in paths of righteousness" really means. That is, the "jargon" of shepherding is expounded upon by a sheep herding expert and brought into clear focus. And while Keller's applications throughout the whole of the book might sometimes seem a bit shallow and imprecise, the way he brings the truth of God's word out into the open makes his book well worth reading (for those who know how to glean wheat from chaff). For our purposes here, though, let us take some time and take from these truths Keller has opened for us and make some applications that are deeper and more precise.

The Real Shepherd

There are at least two issues being left unsaid here that need addressed. First, just who is the real shepherd anyway? Most believers who read Keller's works (as does Keller himself) labor under the "church" paradigm and will immediately take Keller's call for better shepherding and a "pre- determined...deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of sound management" to be the way the "pastor" of their "church" takes up different topics in his sermons or covers different books of the Bible in his teachings. But this is far from what the Scriptures have in mind. Our minds, benumbed with centuries of "church" tradition, are clouded over as to what the Scriptures are really saying.

He leads me in paths of righteousness because He is my shepherd! Oh, that we could grasp the full significance of this. Any undershepherd who leads me away from the true Shepherd is a thief who is out to relieve me of my wool and my life (see Jn. 10:1 , 8 , 10 and notice that Satan is not the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy; top). And any time I cannot hear the true Shepherd because I have become accustomed to listening to someone who is only claiming to be an undershepherd, I have strayed from the true paths of righteousness.

This discussion could easily be derailed because "pastor" and "shepherd" have become such buzzwords in the "church" that they mean something entirely different in the ears of most people who have heard them explained at "church" than what they really mean in the pages of Scripture. In "church" circles, the "pastor" or "shepherd" is the one who stands up every Sunday morning and evening and at every mid-week "service" and delivers a sermon which is purportedly what he thinks God is saying to his audience. Of course, some "pastors" don't even make a pretense any more of trying to speak what's on God's heart and simply teach the Bible book by book or topic by topic after having squeezed all the spiritual life out of their message which they possibly can by inserting all the different intellectual interpretations and cultural background information which detracts from the simple message God would speak to the hearers. The "pastor," because he doesn't have to have a personal relationship with any of the sheep, can have as many in his flock as he can build a barn big enough to seat - and he doesn't have to live up to the characteristics listed for elders and deacons. (see 1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Tit. 1:5-9; top ) All he has to do is have a board and staff of yes-men who will stand between him and the people and shield him from any and all correction.

True shepherds, on the other hand, rarely work with more than a handful of sheep. They are personally involved in the sheep's lives and have an intimate knowledge of the habits, strengths and weaknesses of each sheep they work with. Because he is also very aware that he is only a sheep himself, he is also open to reproof and even rebuke from the sheep he tends. His goal is to provide the love the Lord has for the sheep in a very tangible way through his lowly earthen vessel, that is, he lays down his own life as the Lord leads him to do so in order that the genuine needs (not wants and desires) of the sheep are met. What a totally different picture a true shepherd presents as compared to the modern "church" "pastor"!

This has much more impact upon our lives than we might at first think. When a "pastor" sits down to plan his sermons, does he turn to the Lord and ask, "What shall I preach?" Actually, some do - and these are the rare exceptions that shine out in the otherwise dark world of "church." But quite often, those that are able to ask those kind of questions of the Lord have already moved on from the "church" and are out busily ministering among the real body of Christ. But far too often, a "pastor" or preacher has a list of sermon topics to preach or a planned rotation of Bible books to "study" and uses that to guide him through his "church" career. This is not moving the flock from one pasture to another as Keller and the Scriptures speak of.

Those that might think that being taught the Scriptures "line upon line, precept by precept" is the same thing as being moved from one pasture to another really need to re-examine what the phrase "line upon line" is really referring to. The only place this phrase is used in the whole of the Bible is in Isaiah. Here's the passage:

"Whom will He teach knowledge? And whom will He make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little." For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, "This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest." And, "This is the refreshing"; yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was to them, "Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little," that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught. ( Isa. 28:9-13; top - emphasis added)

Those teachers who take pride in teaching you the Bible "line upon line" are taking pride in the fact that they are leading you into a snare! It is only those who refuse to hear the word of the Lord (that is, the message that God Himself is saying at the moment) for whom the "line upon line" method which leads to destruction and ensnarement is reserved. Any who will listen to what God is saying need not worry about learning the Scriptures line upon line. They are not meant to experience destruction - no, they hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him only. They experience abundant and eternal life, not deception and lifeless knowledge.

In addition, the method of teaching the people only what the Bible says (and not what God is saying now) is equivalent to a man, claiming to be a shepherd, reaching down, picking up a blade of grass and trying to give that single blade to the flock. Is it any wonder the "pastor's" fingers are so well nibbled upon? The notion that a shepherd stands in front of the flock and that he alone is responsible for feeding the flock is errant teaching. There is no one in the whole of the New Testament (other than Jesus) who is said to be our shepherd and no man gifted as a shepherd is ever seen to stand up and deliver a sermon of any kind. Rather, a shepherd leads the sheep into the beneficial pasture and deflects them from all pastures that would be harmful. In real life, that means that the shepherd knows what the sheep is walking through and is right there beside him (not hundreds or thousands of them) saying, "This way. Not that way." This is not a "lording over" process but rather a serving process (see Mt. 20:25-28; top ) wherein the older sheep/shepherd watches over the younger sheep as one who has to give account to the Master Shepherd. (see Heb. 13:17; top )

If we are submitting ourselves to some man's plan about how we are to be shepherded, we ought not deceive ourselves into thinking that the Lord is our shepherd. When some man is our shepherd, we shall indeed want.


And this leads directly into the second unsaid issue in Keller's work. This issue is the methods of the "church." In these excerpts, Keller speaks long and loud about the tendency of sheep to get into ruts that are harmful or even lethal to the sheep. But what is the very purpose of the "church" building with its pulpit and pews? Is it not to give you a routine place to sit week in and week out? Where is the movement of the flock in this? The very thing Keller says is necessary for the health of the sheep is precisely what the very nature of the "church" building and its furniture prevents and inhibits. Now tell me that "church" is just an "innocent" human weakness and not a lethal scheme of the devil to deprive the people of God of their heritage.

Keller wrote, "Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies, so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives." While Keller misses this application, this is the perfect explanation of the huge movements, denominations and the mega-"churches." Whenever some man's presentation of the Bible becomes the drawing power of "church" attendance, there you have wickedness of many forms. There you will find a large percentage of the people are only following some man - something Paul said would keep you in carnality and spiritual immaturity. ( 1 Cor. 3:1-4; top ) Whenever we follow anything other than the Spirit of God - whether that be a man's charisma, a list of creeds and doctrines, certain set practices, etc. - we are setting ourselves up to be deceived at one level or another. Yet this is precisely the foundation of every movement, denomination and mega- "church." Woe to those who are too willfully blind to see this.

Keller also wrote, "The stubborn, self-willed, proud, self-sufficient sheep that persists in pursuing its old paths and grazing on its old polluted ground will end up a bag of bones on ruined land." Again, Keller missed one of the most obvious of applications by failing to speak of the "church." "Church" is that system and institution which provides the perfect place for stubborn, self-willed, proud self-sufficient sheep to persist in pursuing its old paths and to graze on its old polluted ground. Is it any wonder, then, that so many "churches" are mere mausoleums, social meeting houses for the "frozen chosen"? Is it any wonder that so many who are only in search of Christ's abundant life flee from the houses of the dead? Why would anyone search for the living in the place of the dead?

In contrast to "church" methods, the need for moving the sheep is provided for within the ministry of the five giftings, the only Scriptural "method" proscribed by God in the pages of the New Testament for maturing the body of Christ. Paul wrote, "He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." ( Eph. 4:11-12; top ) At no time is it very likely that you will be exposed to all five of these ministries at any one given time. When you are unsaved, for instance, you need to be evangelized. Once you are saved, you might need to be taught a few rudimentary things about God. Once you recognize the reality of the body of Christ, you need a shepherd to take charge of your care. When you are discouraged or needing confirmation or clarity about what God is really saying, you need a prophet to speak to you. When you have been exposed to misguided theology and religious malpractice, you will need an apostle who can speak of and demonstrate the order of God's kingdom. But, again, it is highly unlikely that you will need and/or experience all five of these at the same time.

And here it is the Shepherd Himself who will move you from pasture to pasture, in His wisdom, placing you with someone whom He recognizes as capable of acting as His undershepherd. When you are in need of the prophetic, He will place you with a prophet. When you are in need of the apostolic, He will place you with an apostle. And the same is true with all the giftings. The Good Shepherd has not left the planning of raising and tending His sheep in the hands of incompetent men. No, before the world was created, He had already planned how He will raise up and care for each individual sheep. That there are so many untended or under-tended sheep speaks only of our unwillingness to submit to His care and tending, not His inability to watch over His sheep. In fact, He is even able to tend and care for His sheep that are still beguiled into following men who claim to be, but are not, His undershepherds. What a mighty God He is!


Keller's observations of human resistance to divine leadership is extremely accurate. It is only when our will is set to follow His will at any cost that we are true followers of Christ. There is no law or code book to follow. There is the Spirit of Christ within our hearts who will lead us into all truth, righteousness, peace and joy. Anything else is a counterfeit which is to be rejected and discarded.

Keller wrote, "Of course, most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it. We would assert vehemently that we are 'led of the Lord.' We would insist that we would follow wherever He leads. We sing songs to this effect and give mental assent to the idea. But as far as actually being led in paths of righteousness is concerned, precious few of us follow that path." Here Keller is dead on target even though his application draws short of recognizing that "church" provides the perfect place in which we can sing songs that deceive us into thinking we are actually led of the Lord. But, oh, that we could grasp just how subtle - but how lethal and vast - is the difference between knowing the truth and doing it!

Keller also wrote, "There are many willful, wayward, indifferent, self-interested Christians who cannot really be classified as followers of Christ. There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master." Again Keller is precisely on target - even though again he fails to notice that "church" provides the perfect place for willful, wayward, indifferent, self-interested "Christians" to congregate and "fellowship" one with another. "Church" rarely provides anything satisfying or edifying to those who are determined to pursue the will of Christ at all costs. Rather, to these true followers of Christ, "church" is, at best, yesterday's manna filled with rot and worms. "Church" is most often the very thing that prevents us from being the fullness of the body of Christ.

Oh, that we could see the difference between "church" and the body of Christ. If we could only reject the things which were introduced by the spirit of antichrist and perpetuated by the traditions of men, the superficiality of "church" would fall away from us and we would be able to embrace the fullness of the self-sacrificial, unified life in the Spirit of Christ. For those who can see this, there awaits eternal and abundant life as they use their ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to Christ's people. For those who refuse to see this, there awaits a spirit of deception to which they will be given over so that they will no longer straddle between the religious system of this world ("churchianity") and the kingdom of Christ. (see 2 Ths. 2:9-12; top )

Jesus said to the lukewarm Laodicean assembly:

These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked - I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the ekklesias." ( Rev. 3:17-22; top )

Enough said? If not, I can add nothing that will change your mind or your life. If so, anything I add would be superfluous. May God grant that you hear what He is saying to His people.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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