By Mike Willis
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures (Psa. 23.2)
In David’s description of the Lord as his Shepherd (Psa. 23), he describes how the Lord takes care of His sheep. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” The Lord provided green pastures for His sheep to eat and still waters from which they could drink. Sir Richard Baker had many insights into the implications of this analogy when he wrote as follows:
He leads me not into pastures that are withered and dry, that would distaste me before I taste them; but he leads me into “green pastures,” as well to please my eye with the verdure as my stomach with the green herbage . . . . As they are pleasant to look on, so they are wholesome to feed on: as they are sweet to be tasted, so they are easy to be digested; that I am not, methinks, in a kind of paradise and seem not to want anything . . . . And now see the goodness of this Shepherd, and what just cause there is to depend upon his providence (Sir Richard Baker as quoted by C.H. Spurgeon in Treasury of David, Vol. 1, pp. 408-409).
While growing up in East Texas, I raised some cattle. Anyone familiar with cows knows that, to a cow, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence than in the pasture in which she is grazing. That the grass is knee deep where she is grazing does not matter. The cow will poke her head through the fence and stretch to reach the grass on the other side. If the fence post is rotten or the wire poorly nailed, the cow’s weight will finally push the post over or break the fence and she will be on the highway right of way where many dangers threaten her.
When I read the phrase, “he maketh me to He down in green pastures, ” I think of the similarities between those cattle and some Christians. We Christians sometimes begin to think that the “green pastures” (hence, better) are not within the “fence” of God’s word but rather in the kind of life which God’s word condemns or forbids. We look at the devil’s pastures with longing eyes; we go to the edge of the Lord’s pasture, poke our heads through the fence and lean against the posts. We try to go as far as our consciences will allow us to go in approaching the “gray area” leading up to an out and out sin. We rationalize our way, assuring ourselves that we will not break down the barrier between us and sin. Soon we find ourselves having gone too far, grazing in the forbidden pastures of sin that we, at an earlier time, were so confident that we would never go. Those Christians who think that the “green pastures” are outside the fence of God’s word, like our old cows, will eventually find or make a hole in the fence and graze in the devil’s pasture.
Where Are The Green Pastures?
Because our course of conduct is related to our evaluation of what is best, we need to re-examine whether or not we truly recognize that the green pastures are in the manner of life which God has commanded. Our loving, heavenly Father commands out of His concern for our well-being., He created us and knows what is best for man. His revealed word directs us to walk in the manner of life which is best for us. There are many areas of application which others might choose to expand, but I have chosen these.
1. The Green Pastures Are Not In Worldliness. The movie and television industries have glamorized the playboy lifestyle to such a point that some gullibly begin to think that is the best kind of life. Some imagine that green pastures are in a life with a scenario that is something like this:
A handsomely dressed man calmly and confidently enters a bar and orders a drink. While waiting for the drink to come, he fights up a cigarette. An attractive woman is sitting alone in the bar, so he strolls over and offers to buy her a drink. After a few minutes of chit-chat, he invites her to his apartment. . . .
This is the pasture which the devil is trying to convince us is greener than the one which the Lord has provided.
Green pastures are not found in a sexual interlude that is a one-night stand with a mate whose name one cannot remember! Recent articles written by psychologists who have interviewed those who say that they are satisfied with sex have reached the conclusion that sex without commitment is not gratifying. The devil’s “green” pasture of fornication is full of venereal disease, illegitimate babies, abortion, divorce, and guilt. What the devil has pictured as gratifying leaves one’s soul empty and full of remorse.
Green pastures are not found in a liquor bottle. The gaiety which the advertisements associate with drinking is deceptive. The consequences of this drug are monstrous. The devil’s “green” pasture of drinking is full of alcoholism, automobile accidents, brawling, quarreling, financial problems, family conflict, hangovers, absenteeism from work, etc. The devil has deceived many a man and woman into thinking, “I can control my liquor” and “I know when to stop.” The anguish associated with alcohol is sometimes not realized until one is sober enough to realize that the automobile accident he caused took the life of another person.
2. Green Pastures Are Not In Denominationalism. Through the years, some preachers among us have become so enamored with denominationalism and its scholars that they have become convinced that the Lord’s church is a barren desert and denominationalism contains the green pastures. Those preachers who become convinced of this begin condemning “sectarianism” and “isolationism” in the churches of Christ. They view as “church of Christ traditions” such Bible doctrines as baptism is immersion in water, baptism is for the remission of sins, that there is only one church, that instrumental music in worship is sinful, and other doctrines which Protestantism, generally rejects. In contrast, the denominations are admired for their broader fellowship, their preaching on love and grace, and their emphasis on the spirit of Christ rather than on the law of Christ.
The devil’s pastures are not as green as they look. Denominationalism is struggling for survival, with most mainline Protestant churches registering a decline in membership in recent years. One cannot escape spiritual conflict by becoming a member of the denominations. They are warring within themselves on such issues as: (1) whether or not the Bible is inspired of God; (2) whether or not the Bible is inerrant; (3) whether or not miracles were performed; (4) whether or not women should be ordained as preachers, bishops, and deacons; (5) whether or not homosexuals should be ordained as preachers. Many of the moral issues which trouble our brethren are accepted as righteous conduct in the denominations, including such things as: (1) unscriptural divorce and remarriage; (2) social drinking; and (3) mixed swimming.
Many of the doctrinal issues which have divided us do not trouble denominationalists because they simply accept a very liberal view on each of those issues. For example, denominational folks do not trouble themselves about whether or not instrumental music in worship is acceptable to God, for they have accepted special singing groups, entertainers to draw a crowd, perversions of the Lord’s supper (ranging from the items to be used to the frequency of its observance), and other unauthorized items of worship., Discussions of the organization of the church, as in the case of the sponsoring church conflict among us, mean nothing to those who have already accepted conventions, associations, dioceses, bishops (in the denominational sense), archbishops, pastors, popes, and other offices never mentioned in the word of God. Hence, if one is going to be attracted to denominationalism, he must first rid his mind of the concept that book, chapter, and verse are required for all that we do and say in religion (1 Pet. 4:11).
Those who might be looking at the pastures of denominationalism with the thought that they might be greener than the pastures in which the Lord has led us need to look at the troubles with which he will be faced in denominationalism. Denominationalism is not a greener pasture; it is a barren desert leading to disobedience of God’s word.
3. Life Without Regular Worship In 77te Assembly Is Not A Greener Pasture Sometimes Christians begin to think that their life would be better if they just decided to quit going to church. Then, they would have time to go fishing or golfing on Sunday; they would not have to listen to someone appealing for them to increase their giving, urging them to attend worship more frequently, exhorting them to visit the sick, and many other things. Consequently, some Christians just decide to leave God and the church out of their lives and live the life of a hedonist-to find all the self-gratifying pleasure they can find in the here and now.
The hedonist’s life is not a green pasture. He, his family, and friends face all of the same problems every other person faces. He has sicknesses and death, has more family problems than most Christians, feels that life is vanity and a striving after the wind, has dissatisfaction rather than contentment, and many other problems.
The hedonist does not enjoy the inner peace of a man who has found contentment in a life of faithful obedience to God. He has not escaped the vicissitudes of life. He is simply trying to live life on his own strength, without God. Frequently, he is not very successful in achieving true happiness and joy in life, even if one only considers the here and now. He seeks help and counsel from his psychiatrist, is deluded to think he has found security through his insurance programs, and never allows himself to think about life after death.
The life without God is not a green pasture. There is no inner peace available for his guilty conscience, no assurance of the ultimate triumph of righteousness in times of injustice, no hope beyond the grave for comfort in the face of death, and no understanding of the purpose of life. The life without God and His church is not a green pasture; it is a barren desert.
Create In Me A New Spirit, O God!
A Christian has changed his thinking to the conclusion that God leads us into the green pastures. The best kind of life is the path in which God has revealed for man to walk in His word. Like Moses, we must conclude that God’s commandments are for our own health, physical and spiritual (Deut. 6:24; 10:13).
When man recognizes that the fences built around man by the word of God are for man’s own protection, like the fences built around the play area at a day-care center, he will better appreciate his God and the Word. He will see the harmful consequences of alcohol from which God sought to protect him by His restrictions on drinking; he will see the horrible results from immorality from which God sought to protect him by His restrictions on sexual immorality; etc. Recognizing these dangers and fearing many others, he will gladly walk in submission to the Lord’s will without viewing His commandments as a grievous burden to be borne.
I remember hearing a preacher once say, “I drink all of the whiskey I want to drink. I curse God all that I want to curse God. I go dancing anytime I want.” I thought, “What an immoral man! What is he doing in the pulpit?” Then, he added, “I just do not want to drink, curse, or dance.” Indeed, his spirit had been born again, made new, or regenerated (Jn. 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:7; Tit. 3:5).
Many who have been baptized have never been born of the Spirit. They view the commandments of God as restrictions imposed on them by a God (or a church) which does not want men to have any fun. They do not realize that in sowing sinful habits, they will reap physical and spiritual destruction. This attitude ultimately leads to apostasy! Does this describe your thinking toward God’s commandments? Or do you feel like David when he wrote, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”?
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 16, pp. 482, 503-504
August 15, 1985