As most of you know I’ve been on a two-week break from my teaching job (by the time you receive this I may be back in class already; please pray for all us teachers…and students!). There’s certainly been plenty to keep me busy during this off time, but I have had a few more spare minutes than normal. While sitting at the dining room table with my wonderful wife one of these holiday afternoons I turned on the tv and began to flip through the stations. I stopped on a “Christian” channel that unfortunately had one of the worst money grubbing televangelists I have ever seen. He looked straight into the camera and with one of the huskiest preacher voices you will ever hear promised viewers that 2020 was going to be a year in which all of their visions would come true. Indeed, he offered assurance that not only was the upcoming year going to be blessed, but that the entire next decade was going to be one in which they would have dominion. But, (surprise!..surprise!..surprise!), there was a catch! (Yes, there always seems to be a catch!) The “minister” (perhaps “mercenary” would be a more accurate description) told his viewers that they could have all these promises and more if they would just give money to his “ministry.” His announcer then came on and gave more details. People were encouraged to give $40 to lay hold of their vision and dominion in 2020. Why $40? Because they were to have $20 in each hand to bring before the Lord. In case you didn’t get it, $20 in the right hand and $20 in the left hand adds up to receiving the promised vision for the year 2020. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! I might not have believed someone came up with such a disgrace myself but for the fact that I asked my wife if she was seeing and hearing the same thing I thought I was and she responded in the affirmative. I first responded with laughter, laugh-out-loud laughter that someone would come up with such a gimmick. Next I responded with anger, a righteous indignation that someone would try to take advantage of people, often desperate people going through terrible times, by making such empty and nonbiblical promises in the name of God. Then, I responded with prayer, fervent prayer that the viewers of the pernicious program would not fall for the scheme and would instead be drawn to the true God of Scripture; fervent prayer that such a “ministry” would either repent and be forgiven (preferable) or be shut down and not heard from again. My final response will come in the form of this month’s newsletter as we look at three Bible verses that deal with vision in the Scriptural sense and which will help us to see the issue of vision with 20/20 (pardon the pun) accuracy!
Verse 1—A Vision Of The Law—Proverbs 29:18 KJV (Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he)… Many preachers capitalize, and not necessarily in a negative way like the one illustrated above, on the thoughts and feelings to which people may be predisposed at certain times of year to bring to light Scriptural truths on various issues. The beginning of a New Year brings thoughts to our minds of new beginnings, fresh starts, and revitalized aspirations in several areas of our lives. Consequently, one famous verse to which ministers (and believers in general) may point to during New Year’s is Proverbs 29:18. Unfortunately, they mostly focus on the first half of the verse without getting the clarifying context which the second half provides. The verse begins by saying “where there is no vision, the people perish.” This is often used to get folks fired up about the importance of having dreams and plans and goals and objectives for the next year and indeed for all of one’s life. The bigger the dream and plan, the better. The grander one’s vision, the grander one’s faith! For indeed, “with God nothing shall be impossible!” (Luke 1:37 and Matthew 19:26-two other verses that are frequently taken out of context). However, when one studies the Proverbs (and the Psalms as well), we quickly discover that the second half of a poetic verse (or perhaps a poetic passage) tells us more about the first half. It usually does this by either restating the preceding part in a different way that escalates the poignancy of the point or by telling the opposite of the first half in a way to accentuate and clarify what has just been said. The second half of Proverbs 29:18, which gets almost no “air play” in many sermons, says “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” This is the opposite (so to speak) of the first half of the verse (“where there is no vision, the people perish”) which heightens and clarifies the same point. You see the “vision” spoken of in our verse is not some grand plan for our individual lives where we dream big or some such thing. The “vision” spoken of is the prophetic vision of God as given to the prophets of God recorded in the pages of the Word of God. Basically, where there is no knowledge, declaration, or proclamation of the Word of God, the truth of God, the law of God; people will perish, both individuals and at-large communities. The fact of this interpretation is seen by the stating of the “opposite” of perishing in the second half of the verse declaring, “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” If we want God’s vision for our lives individually and collectively, if we want to not perish, then it begins by a knowledge and proclamation of the Law of God from the Word of God which shows us what genuine righteousness is! (note: if we were just left with the law, then we would all perish for no one has kept the law but Christ. But, if we don’t first see the law and our failure to fulfill it, then we will never see salvation in the Savior who offers it).
Verse 2—A Vision Of Judgment—Habakkuk 2:2-3 NASB (Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.”…While in college I worked for a godly elderly professor who had a desire to acquire property to use for a ministry he led. A fellow seminary student of mine who knew of this aspiration gave this teacher a large paper printout of Habakkuk 2:2-3, encouraging him to use these verses to help him believe for the fulfillment of his vision. The elderly professor was so inspired that he taped the paper on his wall. I do believe that the man was eventually able to lay hold of the property for his intended purpose of being a blessing. Now, while I dearly loved the godly elderly professor I worked for and while I am not opposed to good personal aspirations, believing God for your personal life vision is NOT the intended meaning of Habakkuk 2:2-3. The context finds the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk looking around and seeing the Lord’s chosen people living sinfully. He questioned the Almighty as to why the nation was seemingly being allowed to sin at will and not receive judgment. God replied in a way that would stun the prophet. The Lord said that He was going to punish His people according to His timetable and would use the Babylonians (a people far more wicked than the Hebrews) as the instrument of His wrath. The prophet was told to write down this vision and make it plain so that those who read it could run. The vision was not one of grandeur inspiring those who read it to run with purpose to fulfill it. The vision was one of impending judgment encouraging those who read it to run for their lives, repenting of their sins and fleeing from the wrath to come. It would be somewhere between 50 to 75 years from the time that God gave this revelation to Habakkuk until the time that it came to fulfillment. Though it tarried, it surely came about! Those of us living in the present time can look back at Habakkuk’s vision and see testament of the fact that the Lord is certainly patient with sinners but that He also will eventually punish sin!
Verse 3—A Vision Of The Gospel—2 Corinthians 4:3-5 NASB (And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake)…A little more than 20 years ago I began wearing glasses. My distance vision had been growing noticeably worse for quite some time before I finally gave in and went for an eye exam. The straw that broke the camel’s back of my resistance to the thought of eyeglasses occurred on a trip from Tulsa, Oklahoma (where I went to college) to Greenville, Ohio (where my grandparents lived). It was nighttime and I was traveling on an unfamiliar road. I knew that my exit had to be coming up soon and I was afraid that I would pass it (or perhaps had already passed it!). I could not read the road signs telling the exit numbers and the mileage to the next towns. I had to pull off on the shoulder of the interstate highway, get out of the car, and walk within a few feet of the sign to be able to read it! There was nothing wrong with the signs; they conveyed the accurate and adequate information all along to get me where I needed to go, I just couldn’t see it!…Corinth was sin-city during the time of the New Testament. Yet, here in such a stronghold of iniquity, God used the Apostle Paul to start a church. He preached the true gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ Jesus alone. Then came along some “Super-Apostles” who puffed up themselves and their sensational (though false) teaching by ridiculing Paul and his simple (and true) message. They said that Paul’s gospel was antiquated, lacking, and one in which many would not believe. Part of the genuine Apostle’s response to these false Super Apostles was to say that he did not preach himself (which is what the false teachers did-and still do today!) and that the true gospel of Christ was indeed sufficient for all time and would never go out of date. Those who do not see and receive the salvation that comes through Jesus are blinded by the god of this world (the devil) and their own sinful natures which desires the things of this world more than the things of God! The true gospel is all that is needed for salvation and has been (and continues to be!) in the pages of Scripture all along; many just choose not to have the vision to see it and believe it. If we know people who are lost, the answer is not to change the gospel into something sensational and visionary according to the definitions of this world, but is to proclaim the genuine gospel in love and truth and pray for the lost to have the vision to see and receive! And for those of us who are saved, may we never lose sight of or gratitude for the fact that “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”