“Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .”
– Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Proverbs 29:18 may be one of the most misapplied verses in all the evangelical church today. Many a church leader has used it to spiritualize his strategies and blackmail followers into supporting his entrepreneurialism. Vision statements are cast. Mission statements are crafted to serve the vision. A list of values is composed to serve the mission. An array of programs is developed to serve the values. A stable of leaders is recruited to serve the programs. An army of volunteers is inspired to assist the leaders.
Much of what goes on in our local churches serves to make sure the church machine keeps running. In less healthy — but sometimes very big — churches, the entire machine is designed to put on an excellent weekend worship service. All of this would indeed perish if that vision were not cast.
But what if a leader’s good idea for church growth or success was not the vision Proverbs 29:18 had in mind? What if we aren’t free to insert anything we come up with, no matter how spiritual or “inspired by God”?
The verse is longer than is usually quoted. Proverbs 29:18 (in the ESV) in its entirety reads: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” The vision is “prophetic vision”; what is in mind here is the revelation of God to his biblical spokesmen. Where there is no vision shared with us by the prophets, to whom God revealed the mysteries of the ages, we like savages run wild. In other words, we may have a vision, but if it is not the one given to the biblical representatives of God’s revelation and the forecasters of God’s coming glory, it is not to be conformed to. “But blessed is he who keeps the law.” The latter part of the verse implies that when the vision of the prophets is held by the people, the blessing of living God’s way ensues.
What is the vision of the prophets? It is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26; see also Rom.16:25 and Eph. 3:9). The vision is Jesus.
The world would have us know a billion other things. The church would sometimes have us know many other things, as well. But those who have beheld the life-changing vision of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ know better. Here is what Peter says:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19)
You will do well to pay attention. We have something more sure, more true, more bright, more majestic, more powerful. He is the only surety, the only truth, the only light, the only majesty, the only power.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 11: The Blessed Fixation from my book Gospel Wakefulness.