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.