As marketing and business models have had greater influence on the church, new terminology, and ideals have entered into our collective mind. Churches now have vision, mission, and purpose statements. They have strategic goals and action plans.
I think many of these additions have been beneficial. I’m convinced God has given us a mission. I believe God wants us to use our brains in determining how to best fulfill that mission in our world. Goals, when they are rooted IN Scripture, can be a helpful way of motivating people.
However, this post is about attempting to use a certain Scripture to find “authority” for such practices. In doing so one verse has been used time and again, Proverbs 29:18.
In fact, it is used by very influential people. Rick Warren uses it to support the claim that nothing is accomplished without vision or a goal. Bill Hybels states the verse teaches that without vision people are unable to obtain their goals. Laura Barrett, on the Huffington Post, uses it to call people to catch a clear vision on what our government needs to do in regards to public transportation (link).
Again, let me emphasize that in general these ideas are correct. I think it is a true axiom that vision and goal setting help us better reach our objectives. The problem is THIS IS NOT WHAT THE VERSE IS TEACHING! Maybe it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. In fact, it really gets under my skin when people use verses out of context to lend God’s authority to their position.*
What does it mean?
So let’s delve into what the verse actually means. I guess this is what frustrates me about using a verse out of context, by using it out of context we miss the richness of the actual verse. The understanding of this verse turns on two words: “vision” and “perish.”
As the above misuses of this verse illustrate, many view the word vision to have to do with a clear goal or mission statement. However, the Hebrew word has a different meaning. The word does not mean having a clear mission statement or goal, rather the word refers to revelation from God (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:32; Lamentations 2:9; Daniel 8:1; Hosea 12:10; Habakkuk 2:2 and much more) If we were to paraphrase we could say “where there is no message from the Lord.”
So the first part of the verse has nothing to do with making sure we have a clear direction for our organization. Instead it has to do with the need of revelation from God. The second word is “perish.” Again this is an unfortunate translation that the King James gave, but newer versions have corrected. The word has the idea of “throwing off restraint.” This is the word used in Exodus 32:25. It is the idea of breaking loose. In this section the people had thrown off the restraints and began to crazily worship the golden calf. Thus the word perish should be understood as removing restraint.
Thus the verse is teaching that “where there is no message from God, the people throw off all moral, ethical, and religious restraint.”
I hope you can see the power of this verse in context. The verse is teaching that a consistent message from God is needed if we are going to overcome the human tendency to throw-off restraints and do as we desire.
The verse is a warning. It is a warning to make sure that the Word of God is always before you. It is a warning to preachers to make sure they are delivering a message from God. It is a warning to Christians to make sure they are delving into the Word of God.
When we see our world and our churches leaving God’s restraints, this verse clearly teaches us that the problem is there is no message from God!
What an important concept! And one that we have missed because of poor interpretation.
*I’m upset not just with others who do this, but whenever I look back at past sermons or remember past discussions, I also get upset with myself. context.