Living The Prophetic Life
“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the Law.”
This verse is one of those somewhat obscure passages, which has opened the door for all kinds of difficulty in the lives of Christians, and in the Church as a whole.
I’ve seen it used for building programs, or (as the current trend is) to see Pastors and other Church leaders as “vision casters”.
In fact, there is no one passage in all of Proverbs that so completely and elegantly summarizes everything that Proverbs is communicating as THE key idea – and to bring us into the life of wisdom before God.
29:18 – sharpens the focus of all we have heard so far in an astounding way.
We have 3 key parts which need to be unpacked carefully if we are to grasp the Author’s intent, and then glean something from it for ourselves.
- Prophetic Vision
- Casting off Restraint
- Keeping the Law
- Prophetic vision.
The prophets did 3 things mainly:
[a]. Made God’s Word (and thus His mind, plans and purposes known).
[b]. They proclaimed the blessings which attend living within God’s plans and purposes, and warned of the coming judgment upon all who live outside God’s plans and purposes.
[c]. Called god’s people BACK to these central things whenever they got off course.
Describing the problem
Describing the inevitable results if not heeded
Reminding the people of God’s great grace and forgiveness
[When building a structure you need:]
Construction workers who can read the blueprints and who will follow them to erect the Architect’s plan.
[Prophets are forever URGENTLY calling God’s people back to the blueprints.]
Calling them to remember the original plan.
Warning them of what will happen if they proceed off-plan.
Denouncing the thinking that gets people off task.
And telling them how forgiving and willing the Architect is to get them back to it.
Underlining the entire ministry and message of all the prophets is this scheme:
[Creation:] Holy God created us for Himself – to bear His image
[Fall:] Humankind rebelled to serve our own purposes
[Promise:] God announced a coming Redeemer to reconcile us back to God and restore us to His plan and purposes
[Fulfillment:] Christ came and died a substitutionary death on Calvary that all who believe in Him may be forgiven, reconciled, and restored
[Consummation:] Final judgment on sin, and the restoration of all things in Christ.
All prophetic ministry in the OT – apart from the particulars that may have applied to specific people, times and events – is underscored by this overall plan.
When the prophetic ministry is understood this way – it keeps us away from:
1. Making God serve us in OUR thing, rather than serving Him in His.
2. Making the Word of “private interpretation”. Seeing a passage as all about my personal life instead of God’s grand plan.
3. Trying to divine all kinds of personal guidance apart from God’s grand plan.
[The PLAN, is both PERSONAL and CORPORATE]
Each brick, each 2 x 4, each joist, support etc. needs to have certain qualities to be useful.
None of these are meant to exist in isolation – but in close union to the other building materials that are needed to make up the whole.
[Ephesians 2:19–22] (ESV) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
[1 Corinthians 3:7–16] (ESV) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
[1 Peter 2:4–5] (ESV) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
[Do we understand that Christ is building His Church – the holy habitation where He is to be enthroned and worshiped, and that we are to be about the business of being conformed to His image, so that joined together – we might BE His Temple.]
The [PERSONAL] is in setting the priority of being conformed to the image of Christ: [Romans 8:29] (ESV) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
The [CORPORATE] is in being JOINED together with other saints, that the Gospel may go out, gathering others in – helping them grow in the likeness of Christ and in unity growing together into God’s “spiritual house” as stated in 1 Pet. 2:5. [Ephesians 4:15–16] (ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
A grand edifice comprised of redeemed souls as the ultimate place of revelation of and worship of the true and living Triune God.
[2. Cast off restraint.]
When the Blueprint is lost or ignored – then those committed to the project can do a number of things
- Get creative and start to make the project about their ideas.
We see this when the Church takes its cues from the World around us, and tries to fashion and shape after mankind’s ideas of its needs and wants.
Example: 1968 – The World Council of Churches adopts as its official slogan: [“The World Sets the Agenda for The Church”.]
So, whatever the world is most interested in at the time – this too becomes the Church’s chief concern.
Certainly the Church needs to thoughtfully and Biblically address all of the issues that impact humankind – but the AGENDA of the Church must be set by the Head of the Church, which several places in the NT note is Christ alone: [Colossians 1:18] (ESV) 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
This is HIS Church.
He is building it – [Matt. 16:18]
And we are to be about HIS business and HIS agenda in it all.
This is why we MUST grasp the reality of all of human history moving inexorably toward the final day of judgement and the glory of Christ’s revealed reign over all.
1. Get creative and start to make the project about their ideas.
2. Abandon the project altogether.
3. Move on to some other project.
In any or all of these – ordering one’s life around God’s plan and will as it has already been revealed in the Scripture – gets shoved aside for something else.
Personally – when I leave off the Project of being conformed to the image of Christ as primary (taking on Christ’s Character) and being joined together to other Christians so as to grow the Church as a whole – I will not order my life accordingly.
I will cast off “restraint” – My intentions will become freewheeling. I lose God’s perspective on priorities and what calls for attention and assign my own values to everything.
[Richard Sibbes – Puritan Preacher said: The life of a Christian is wondrously ruled in this world by the consideration and meditation of the life of another world.]
I will not see or feel the need to be joined and bound to others who are also part of the building. I will just be ME. After all, ME, MY ministry, MY happiness, MY desires outrank the Project!
I can be a Christian and be one all alone.
Yes – and as unjoined, unusable.
Not contributing to the whole. Just being – me.
This is what happened in the Corinthian Church with people and their spiritual gifts.
Each was exercising their gift without concern over whether or not it truly ministered to others – but so that they got to use their gift!
Self became the primary thing.
I’m me, and I have a gift and I have to USE that gift, and y’all better make way for it.
Rather than seeing that God is building His edifice, and each gift only bears fruit when the WHOLE is considered as more important than my PART. How does this contribute to the unity and health of the Body – of the Church?
NOT – does this get me the free exercise of MY gift?
No restraint. And why Paul says through the Spirit – [1 Corinthians 14:31–32] (ESV) For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
Lack of restraint is lack of giving my all to God’s great plans and purposes, and confining myself to those, rather than needing to run free with my own.
And He has articulated this in:
Personal Conformity to Christ
Being built together with The Church for the declaration of His Gospel and the building together His holy habitation in the saints.
[3. Keeping the Law.]
Whenever we hear the term “KEEP THE LAW” – almost invariably our minds reduce that idea to OBEYING the Law.
For us most often, to KEEP the Law IS, to OBEY the Law.
But the word as it is used Biblically has a different stress of emphasis.
Obedience will play a role, but it is arrived at differently than by rote or slavish adherence.
From the beginning, this word KEEP had more to do with protecting, caring for and attending.
These are all things you do with something precious and valuable.
[Gen. 2:15 – Adam was to “keep” the Garden.]
Gen. 3:24 – An Angel was sent to “guard” the way to the Tree of Life.
“KEEPING” Comes from a root with the idea of setting a hedge around something to protect it.
It is valuable and something to be cherished and so it needs tended to and watched over. It is precious.
And when you value something so as to protect and watch over it, you by default, pay close attention to it so as to avoid doing anything that might break it, injure it or defile it.
Life is meant to be lived in direct relationship to God’s purpose and plan.
And when it comes to the OT/Mosaic Law, keeping it in a right sense would be to keep it intact, and also to tend to it in terms of WHY it was given: It was given – as the sacrifices, the Levitical system and the social and ethical aspects reveal – to teach us about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This is why Jesus in John 5 can say to those looking to the Law as a system merely to be OBEYED:
[John 5:39] (ESV) You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
[John 5:46] (ESV) For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.
[Luke 24:27] (ESV) And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Cherishing, guarding it, keeping it, setting watch over it – until the work is done.
To keep it is to think deeply about:
Where is all of this going? How will it end? What happens after death?
All these things God has told us about.
And it is the Prophets who constantly remind us of God’s program.
This is why NT preaching is most often connected with PROPHESYING – in unfolding the Scriptures the Preacher is constantly rehearsing the plan of God to sum everything up in Christ in the coming Kingdom, teaching about how to live in that perspective, and warning about the coming judgment and the failure to live a life given over to Christ and His Kingdom.
This is the core of what the OT prophets did. They had these same emphases.
And it is in this context that lives get ordered well.
When these cease to be realities, when we lose sight of what it means that we will all stand before the judgment bar of God and give an answer for the things done in these bodies – whether good or bad – we fail to address sin, and just let things be.
The Christian life MUST absolutely be lived within the dynamic of living today – with my eye on eternity and the age to come.
When this prophetic way of seeing life is cast off,
Lives get lived outside the natural restraint that such a worldview constrains us to,
But blessedness, true, eternal, spiritual blessedness attends those who in attending to the worldview taught in the Law – especially in respect to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the fullness of the Kingdom of God He inaugurated while here.
This Jesus who is soon return as the Kingdom’s ruling Sovereign.
PRAYER: Father, deliver us from lives that do not live with eternity in view. That neither strive after your promises, nor fear your judgments. Save us from the sucking vortex of the existential moment. Draw us to yourself – to see and love your plans and purposes and to be consumed with them above all – That Christ may truly be glorified to, in and through us.
 Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans (Pastorum Series; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).