In some ways, Bible Gateway drive me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I love it as a tool for looking at different translations or finding a passage to which I don’t know the reference, but I’ve noticed that it can easily be misused to cut corners in sermon prep. I must confess that I’ve even misused it to find a verse that goes along with some topic in my own sermon prep.
There is a very famous pastor/author who is a phenomenal communicator, yet no doubt uses Bible Gateway this way. No joke, he did a sermon on physical fitness and included half of 1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value…” while neglecting the more important second half, “…but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
I bring this up because one verse that I constantly see misused in writing and speaking (yes, also by the aforementioned pastor) is Proverbs 29:18 (well, half of it anyway). Searching for the word “vision” yields this verse: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It’s become the key verse for discussing vision for my life, my business, my church, my family, etc. The only problem is, it’s not about that at all.
Other translations better reflect with the author intended:
- “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint…”(NIV)
- “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.” (NLT)
- “When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint…” (NET)
- “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves…” (MES)
Even The Message has a more accurate translation. Sigh.
Why does it matter? Maybe it sounds like I’m being nit-picky. After all, it is important to have a direction in life or else you won’t go anywhere. You won’t have a picture to work towards. I agree, it is important, but it’s not most important.
Using Proverbs 29:18 to talk about vision takes out the most important piece: God. The author of Proverbs was trying to communicate that when people don’t see God, they are lost. They need revelation (i.e. God revealing God). In Proverbs, that revelation was the law/wisdom: “But happy is he who keeps the law” (Prov. 29:18b, aka the neglected half of the verse).
I’m convinced all the more that I need to handle the Bible carefully and accurately because people need that revelation. The Bible reveals God and how I handle it will determine how others see God. If I see it as proof for the point I wanted to make anyway, they will see it as promises for the life they wanted anyway. If I preach as if it’s written for me and about me, there’s no revelation of God.
More importantly, I need to bring the ultimate revelation of God. As a teacher and speaker, I am increasingly aware that I have a lot to say, but it’s worthless compared to sharing Jesus. People will die without knowing Jesus. They will wither in despair if they don’t come face-to-face with the God of grace and hope.