There are plenty of abused scripture verses out there. I’m convinced that most are this way because of the unfortunate subculture created by Christians in America. Nonetheless, one I hear a lot is this one:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)
Another translation (the one Jesus used!)
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (ESV)
There’s been a belligerent push by some pastors to have “vision.” I’m all for having a clear direction; one that is narrowed in focus, easy to understand, and thoroughly Biblical. It’s important to dream about the Gospel infiltrating your people and region. The mission of God has a Church, and no doubt the command to make disciples is clear. But what I’ve seen is that many pastors use this verse, and this concept of “vision,” to simply push their agenda for their own glory.
And they use this verse to justify it.
But let’s be honest: anachronistic etymology doesn’t work well (a term I owe to a former professor of mine, John Oliff). This means that we read our current language back onto the historical text. So we read this verse and think, “Wow! This is so true! If we don’t have a cute mission statement, then people will go crazy!” (And let’s be honest: if people aren’t excited about the gospel, and living as missionaries so that the gospel is being rhythmed in everyday life, no amount of hype will get them on mission.)
But that’s not what the verse means. It is saying that if there is no alignment with the revelation of God through Wisdom (a theme throughout the book of Proverbs) and the clinging to the Law (the second line in Hebrew Poetry, known as parallelism, interprets the first), people will be lost. YHWH, the covenant God of Israel, had revealed himself on Mt. Sinai and gave his people the Law (an extension of his character and holiness). This is what the writer intends for us to see.
To put it differently: If people aren’t clinging to Jesus (the embodiment of Wisdom and Law), they will die in their sins.
Should your church have a vision? (Remember, this is a “focus”!) Absolutely.
But don’t forget that you do have a Vision. His name is Jesus, and he is the revelation—the law—we need to survive. It is to him we are to cling.