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Where there is no vision, the people perish

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in discipleship, elders, office, scripture | 8 comments

Where there is no vision, the people perish

The title of this post comes from the KJV translation of Proverbs 29:18 – “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The KJV translators included a note that “perish” literally means “to be made naked.”

Other translations render the verse a little differently: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18 ESV)

The LXX translators (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) made an interesting interpretation for this verse: “In no way should there be an interpreter for a lawless nation, but the one (nation?) who keeps the law is blessed.”

I typically hear this verse brandished whenever a church leader (usually the senior pastor or head elder) is attempting to make certain decisions or plans for the church. The leader will present his or her plan as “God’s vision,” and the church is expected to adopt the plan and carry out the plan, usually by volunteering to serve in various positions.

But, is this the point of Proverbs 29:18? I don’t think so.

First, we need to consider the purpose of the Proverbs. Proverbs are general principles for life. They are examples of wise living in general, but they are not always absolute. This is clear when we consider Proverbs 26:4-5 and other similar proverbs.

Second, this verse seems to make a distinction between those nations/people without God’s law and those nations/people with God’s law. The “vision” in this case is revelation from God. The people who do not have God’s law (revelation from God) are “naked” or “without encouragement” (as some translate it) or “without restraint.” On the other hand, the nation that has and observes God’s law is blessed (presumably by the restraint that comes from keeping the law). In general, then, those people who have and obey God’s law will have a better life than those people who do not know or follow God’s law.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that God presents his vision for a group’s service through a single individual (i.e., a pastor) is not found in the New Testament. There is no indication by the NT writers that a pastor or elder or other leader is responsible for telling a group of people how to serve God and others.

Even when Paul presented his own life and service to the gospel as an example to others, he did not tell them exactly how to serve God for themselves. Instead, Paul clearly tells his readers that through God’s grace each of his readers are given gifts, opportunities, and ability to serve God through serving one another and others in different ways. As Paul followed the Holy Spirit in serving others, he expected others to follow the Spirit as well.

Instead, those who are more mature in trusting God and following Jesus Christ should help others seek how God wants them to serve him and others. This does not mean that the mature tell others what to do, but helps them discover this for themselves.

This plan may not help someone fill positions in their church programs, but I believe it will help build up the church toward maturity in Christ and expand the kingdom of God.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-5-2011

    Excellent explanation. I have questioned the way this one gets used for over 30 years but I have never been able to give a good answer to it. I knew the popular usage did not fit the NT narrative but now I have a good breakdown of the scripture itself. Thanks

  2. 10-5-2011

    Well said Alan. What a tragedy it would be if we were at the mercy of a fellow brother in Christ receiving a “vision” of what God wants us to do, when we clearly have Christ’s vision of what the church is and what we are to be about as His church.

  3. 10-5-2011

    Tom and Hutch,

    Thanks for the comments! This passage is usually brought up whenever I talk about leading others through serving without exercising authority.


  4. 10-5-2011

    Thanks for the explanation, Alan!

  5. 10-5-2011

    @Hutch- agreed. I think God has already given us a ‘vision’ as to how church should operate. Not sure casting vision is a biblical thing in the first place. Much less whether or not it’s a pastor’s responsibility. Not sure I have run into anything the bible in which vision casting is something needed. How about just proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. Seems to be a lot simpler. Or maybe that is just me…. Also…simply living out our vocations (employee, husband, wife, son, daughter, etc.). The Holy Spirit bearing fruit in our lives. Sharing that with others.

  6. 10-5-2011

    Thank you Alan

  7. 10-6-2011

    Good explanation Alan. When I was a teenager, I was very curious about that verse. My pastor at the time gave me basically the same explanation that you did. In the churches that I have attended in my life, I am fortunate to have never heard the explanation that you give above and it being used wrongly (pastor giving “God’s vision” for the church). But, it would not surprise me at all if that happened on a regular basis. Too bad. The thing I keep pounding (in a loving way of course) to those in my church is, every member a minister, and don’t wait for me to start a program to serve Christ. I spoke about that with my oldest daughter last night coming home from dance class (her class, not mine). 🙂

  8. 12-11-2012

    Hi Alan, I gave your post here a shout-out and quote in my post today