“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3b).
A Jarring Note
It is interesting that in our age of narcissism and self-promotion that the statement you have just read from Psalm 23 jars us and sounds somehow off-key. Our times and our culture are so influenced by the so-called selfie movement that we are almost unaware that God may actually do things for reasons beyond our own self-interest. So much of North American Christianity has focused on the self and self-help to the virtual exclusion of God and his interests. But in this passage God acts as a Shepherd who leads his sheep – that’s us – into righteous and just pathways, for his own name’s sake. We are tempted to think: “But I thought God led me so that I could have a great life! I thought he led me so that my life could be meaningful and fulfilling!” But here in the familiar twenty-third Psalm we learn to the contrary, that God leads his sheep for the sake of his own name. In fact everything he does is first and foremost for his own glory and praise and is not primarily about us at all. Does that strike us as odd and perhaps egotistical on God’s part? Does it cause us to do a double-take and give our bewildered heads a shake? To hear that it’s not all about us somehow goes against our twenty-first century grain; our equilibrium is thrown out of kilter. But God knows that since we are created beings, we function best when he, the Creator, is the central focus of our lives.
The Psalmist’s Emphasis
We discover in the psalms that God’s penchant for doing things for his own name’s sake is standard issue. The Psalms consistently emphasize that it is God and God alone who must be at the center of our life and worship, not ourselves. He guides us, not to give us good feelings or even a sense of certainty about our future or our direction, but for his own name’s sake. In Psalm 25 the writer petitions the Lord this way: “. . . remember me [and not my youthful sins] for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:7b, emphasis added). In other words, even forgiveness is not primarily for our benefit (it’s a subsidiary or a byproduct), but so the goodness and mercy of God might be magnified. What is more, we read in the same Psalm, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). Everything God does he does for his own great name, his covenant-keeping name. He does not forgive us because we are deserving, nor does he lead us because we have somehow risen through the ranks to gain his attention and approval. His impulse to forgive us, to lead us and guide us is so that he might draw attention to his name, his goodness, mercy, kindness and grace. “For you are my rock and my fortress,” says the psalmist, “and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me” (Psalm 31:3). He stoops to lead us because he is by nature a rock of security, he is by nature a fortress of protection and provision. His ultimate purpose is to magnify the greatness of his name. His desire is for his name be renowned by his people so that they in turn might declare to the people of the whole earth the splendour of his name.
A New Perspective
So Psalm 23 provides some much-needed perspective. God moves and acts on our behalf first and foremost for the honour of his name. Of course we are the beneficiaries of his acts because when he acts he does so with supreme goodness. He chooses to lead us and forgive us because he is good and when we recognize how he has led us and forgiven us, we spread the word that our God – our Shepherd – is good and gracious. He leads in paths of righteousness and justice so that they might be established in our lives and then applied to the lives of everyone around us. As we are well aware, injustice and unrighteousness are prolific in our world. But when we choose to be led by the Shepherd into his paths of righteousness and justice for his name’s sake, we also choose to make that righteousness known and felt in the lives of others who desperately need it. And in this way, the renown of the his name is further magnified and glorified. Our greatest purpose and meaning is finally realized when we remove self from the center of our own little universe and enthrone God’s name in that place instead. Our gaze shifts away from “me” and refocuses on him.
For whose name? For his name’s sake!
Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net