“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.

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12 thoughts on “The Vision Without Which People Perish”

  1. Jake Fathom says:

    Your insight on Proverbs 29:18, is right, but it’s nothing new. Any honest person who has read the verse truly in it’s context and its full form knows it’s misquoted all time. So it’s not your unoriginal insight that is in question, it’s your intent.

    I have read other articles of you Mr. Wilson and you seem to have some sort of chip on your shoulder – a chip for big churches and the pastors who lead them, a chip on your shoulder for anyone who thinks outside your hyper-reformed view, and a chip on your shoulder for always needing to point out the negative.

    Where is the love? The love for people? The love for God’s work in them? The love real love for a messy church? The love for the tension and mystery of God’s word. Why does the tone of this article, and others you write, have to always carry the tone of arrogance? Why does it seem you love doctrine (your hyper-reformed view of it, anyway) over pastoral compassion? Why does it seem you love being “right” and pointing out the negative?

    I for one need more love from our public commentators and less “absolute rightness”. That’s the kind of leader/pastor I want to follow – regardless of the size church they lead.

    I hear the sounds of a clanging symbol and the footsteps of a Pharisee – always right but no real love.

  2. Jared C. Wilson says:

    “Jake,” even though you didn’t have the courage or courtesy to judge my heart and motives while using your real name, and even though you admit my “unoriginal insight” is right, and even though you are being pretty judgmental about a judgmental “tone” in this post, and even though you see one post with some criticism in it amidst all kinds of posts that are simple gospel devotions and think they’re *all* negative and critical, I’m going to anyways consider your suggestion that I’m being Pharisaical and unloving to tell people to focus on Jesus.

    Will you consider, as a show of good faith, whether by ignoring the majority of my work which is not critical of church size at all — and in fact demonstrates nowhere that I have any disagreement with churches simply for being big (in the most recent post on this blog, for instance, you can find this sentence: “Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church — all churches are epic successes full of the eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him.”) — and by calling me names and assigning motives to my heart and employing a snide “tone” of your own, it’s not *me* who has the chip on his shoulder but maybe *you*?

    Blessings to you in Bellevue.

  3. Jake Fathom says:

    Mr. Wilson,

    Thank you for your prompt response. I obviously struck something, and, it further supports my original point. I wasn’t motive-assigning, reread it. I was motive-wondering, motive-questioning. Do you have a motive of a chip and where’s the motive of love? It’s your blog to defend or to clarify. You’re the one that expounds thoughts of the church & theology.

    So, I’m not sure what “name-calling” you’re referring to or why that would so offend you, a person who doesn’t mind expounding his thoughts, beliefs and perspectives. And I’m not sure what your final blessing to me means.


  4. Jared C. Wilson says:

    “I obviously struck something”



    Right. You hear the sounds of clanging cymbals and Pharisee shoes but no love. But you’re just thinking aloud, right?, not really saying I’m loveless. “Jus sayin’,” right?

    Do you really want to do this?

    If you’re so concerned about love for people in disagreements you wouldn’t have left your character-questioning comment in the first place. But my post “struck something” with you, I know, which is why you ignore the majority of my posts, which have nothing to do with church size or who’s doing church which way, and got all sensitive about this specific one, reacting as if this is all I post about. Good luck to you with that perspective. Or, rather:

    Blessings to you at HopePark Church in Bellevue in Tennessee. ;-)

  5. Jake Fathom says:

    Wow! You win!

  6. Jared C. Wilson says:

    “Jake,” if you ever want to have a real conversation, you could find my phone number easily enough, or you probably have my email address. My convictions and sharing of them aren’t a game to me; they come from real experience of Jesus’ gospel at a time I wanted to kill myself. I have nothing left to prove to you or anybody else. This is why I’m not taking potshots at people from behind a pseudonym. If you felt strongly enough to leave these comments, you should feel free to “own” your criticism of me by talking to me for real.

  7. Jake Fathom says:

    Please Mr. Wilson, I respectfully bow out after this. Uncle. Really, you win. I’m glad we both have a God who saves and that he saved you when you needed him most (I have a story too). For that we can agree.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to get a hold of you other than this comment section (but you can find me on facebook if you want). I won’t need more communication on this point after this – maybe in the future. If you remember, my criticism began with “absolute rightness” & the “tone of arrogance”. Nothing in our escalation has swayed me otherwise. Sadly, I’m more convinced. You seem to have to finish this.

    I’m sure as you continue to write, you’ll show up with your faith & intellect, which you no doubt have. But as you express your opinion and share your perspective, I merely press you for more compassion and less critical commentary, more tension with the theological mysteries and less doctrinal swagger, and more respect for diverse methods and less “this is the right gospel” elitism.

    That’s all. I do, however, wonder if you’ll have to finish even this. Your welcome to, but I’ve said my part, and now I leave this to you, and to anyone who stumbles upon this public conversation, to be the judge of both our points, and both our tones.

  8. Jared C. Wilson says:

    I trust observers to see the “tones” here, as well, so on that we are agreed.

    I am really just saddened. You are someone *at* the church I gave a decade of service and submission to — I can see this plainly in the WHOIS info of your comments — commenting the first couple of times from the internal network of the church. So you’re not “Jake Fathom,” unless they’ve hired someone of that name who hasn’t been added to the staff page on the website. ;-) You are somebody I know.

    So not only are you lying implicitly with your pseudonym, lobbing your charges against me from behind this shield of anonymity, you’re lying now when called on it. I’m sad b/c you don’t have the courage and the courtesy to just pick up the phone or shoot me an email with your real self identified.

    Sad, but not surprised.

  9. Micah Ellis says:

    Thanks for this Jared. I have often taken this verse out of context in my own head. Glad to have the Biblical reminder. Plus it packs a much bigger punch when viewed rightly. Always does, right?

    Thanks for your Gospel ministry in NE from a fellow New Englander.

  10. Eric Frederick says:

    Indeed this is a good Word, Jared. And to affirm it: We are those who are unrestrained. In terms of the flesh this is the fullness of freedom. Freedom for the flesh to do as it wills and pleases. The Lord offers to restrain us. Do we see that we need spiritual restraint against the freedom of the flesh? We are not in control of ourselves. We must see the Lord. If we see Him, then we will be restrained. That is the same as saying “When we see Him we shall be like Him.” We will not be restrained at all before we have revelation in our hearts of Him. No matter how much we may try. Only a continual revelation will do for a continuing restraint of my self motivated ways. His law will govern my steps. Then we will be happy and under restraint.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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