Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
(Proverbs 29:18 NASB)
Dry as cardboard? That’s how a lot of Christians view Scripture passages that deal with things like the law and prophesy.
“I’m into relevant Bible passages,” they say, or at least think. “What’s the law got to do with me? I’m a New Testament believer, so I’m under grace, not law.”
That’s a valid question—for anyone who jealously grasps their ignorance of God’s Word.
Confession time … I’m one of those jealous graspers, fighting to let go of my passionately defended ignorance. It’s one of the sins I keep repenting of, and God is gradually drawing me out of it. When I talk to him in glory, I’m going to say, “With all due respect, Lord, why did you take so long in changing me?” (Have you ever noticed that when people say, “With all due respect …,” they’re being disrespectful?)
So, why is Proverbs 29:18 so relevant? Let’s “rightly divide” it and find out.
First, as great as the New American Standard Version is, the word they translated as vision means volumes more than simply seeing. It’s more of a supernatural sight, like prophesy. “But prophesy was closed with the New Testament writers.” In one sense that’s true; predictive prophesy was closed, but interpretive prophesy is as important now as ever before.
The passage says, “the people.” Do you think that means the old timey, Bible people? Not so. They are us, you and me, and anyone who claims the name of Jesus. Yes, it was originally written to God’s people Israel, but now we are God’s people, grafted in to the Root of Jesse, so we can’t just pass off such wisdom as irrelevant to us.
Now, to the word, “unrestrained.”The unregenerate people of the world simply love being unrestrained. Tragically, many in the church feel the same way. When “the people are unrestrained,” anarchy prevails. We in the church obey—more or less—the rules accepted by the church tradition we’re following. But does that mean we aren’t spiritually unrestrained, or undisciplined? Another confession time: That’s me, or the me I don’t want to be. I praise God for working on that issue, painful as it seems at times.
The word “happy” isn’t what you feel when your team wins the Superbowl, or you get a promotion at work. We often see and hear it expressed as, blessing or blessed. It’s that special kind of happiness that God gives us when we obey him, especially when it’s to our own hurt. It’s the happiness that lasts beyond the moment, that’s deeper than just an emotion. It’s our temporal reward, with eternal benefit.
Of course, “he who keeps the law” includes everyone, not simply guys. That clarification shouldn’t be necessary, but out of deference to our sensitive sisters in the Lord I thought it best to include it.
Now, let’s look into, “keeps the law.” The word translated keeps is way more than simple obedience; to us it means prizing the law as something precious, laying it up and protecting it within our hearts, meditating on it, heeding it, and then obeying it out of love, not obligation.
And what is “the law?” Entire libraries deal with that thorny subject, so I’ll not even attempt to treat it in a scholarly, exhaustive way. To New Testament believers, the law is simply God’s will for us. No, the Ten Commandments aren’t the Ten Suggestions. To us, they can be considered ten categories of spiritual fruit. We will bear such fruit because we are reconciled to God and love him because he first loved us, and sent his Son to live as a man, facing all the problems and temptations that we face, including torture and death for not compromising what he believed. Too often, we think of the Ten Commandments as necessary rules we must obey to be saved. In fact, just the opposite is true; we obey them because we’ve been reborn in Christ’s Spirit. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.(2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
Jesus touched on the true meaning of the law with his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five through seven. That homily is way more than the beatitudes, which teach us volumes by themselves. Jesus saw that the Mosaic Law had not had the effect on God’s people that he had intended. That was especially evident in the religious leaders(then and now), who prided themselves on obeying every jot and tittle. As Jesus said, they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel,” because vain pride, and the ambition it fosters, cause most sin. Just look to our first parents, and Lucifer, the angel of light, for examples of that.
Out of this passage come his preaching on salt and light, not the kind of salt that we sprinkle too liberally on our food, nor the kind of prideful light that Lucifer shed. Jesus said, You are the light of the world. A city situated on a mountain cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14 LITV) Remember John 1:9? Jesus was the true light, and since his resurrection, we are the light of the world. What a privilege! What an awesome responsibility! Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.(Matthew 5:16 KJV)
As for the law, Jesus said, Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to annul, but to fulfill.(Matthew 5:17 LITV) Some of today’s church seem to think God’s law doesn’t apply to them, abut others insist that we must obey the dietary and Sabbath rules; the same two extremes that Satan used against the first-century church. There is nothing new under the Sun. Much of Apostle Paul’s writings to the churches dealt with those two heresies. The deception works just as well now as it did then.
Then Jesus preached on what the law really means. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.(Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)
Now that’s a huge pill to swallow, is it not? But an even bigger pill is, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.(Matthew 5:27-28 ESV)
Were it not for the grace we have through Jesus’ blood, we’d have no hope of the true happiness that we get from union with God. And that was Jesus’ message throughout his ministry. If we don’t understand and believe that, we’ve completely missed both the happiness he has for us here, and the heaven-bound boat. The only alternative is the pit. I don’t know about you, but I’m hanging on to my ticket to glory.