Today’s reading is Genesis 41-45, Psalm 9, and Matthew 17-18.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with you.”Matthew 18:20
Have you ever sat in a church service or Sunday school class and after the pastor or teacher exhorts a specific passage you think, “that’s not what that passage means!“
I assume all of us who have spent any amount of time in the church have experienced this, particularly when we are sitting in a church tradition we are not in alignment with. For me, Matthew 18:20 is one of those verses.
We have all heard someone praying and ends the prayer with something like, “Lord, we know you will do this and more because you said ‘where two or three gather in’ your name, there you will be!” The problem is that this passage is not about prayer, nor is it about controlling God’s answer to prayer.
When understanding verses, it is important to read the whole passage and the passages around the verse. It is also important to know the context of the book the verse is in as well as what type of Biblical literature the book is (narrative, poetry, historical, epistle, etc). We cannot just take the verse at face value and make up a meaning.
Matthew 18:20, when read by itself, does seem as though it is speaking about prayer. But when we read the verses that surround Matthew 18:20, we see a different context. Beginning in Matthew 18:15 we see Jesus is speaking about sin in the church and, in particular, how the church is to handle discipline of the one who sinned. Verse 16 says, “take one or two others along,” which is similar wording and concept of verse 20, “where two or three gather.” If a person takes one along, then two are gathered. If the person takes two along, then three are gathered.
This passage, Matthew 18:15-20, is to teach us how to call believers to repentance. We live in a culture where your sins are your sins and mine are mine and we don’t often confront each other about them. But Christianity is counter-cultural. It is a faith where we confront each other when we are not walking in the ways of Jesus. It is a faith which calls us to repentance.
Jesus was giving the disciples – and therefore us – the permission to confront our brothers and sisters of their sins. He was also teaching us how to confront them.
We are not to call them out publicly, at first. If you notice that I am sinning, you are to pull me aside, one-one-one, and talk to me about it, pointing out my fault (lovingly). But, if I ignore you, disagree with you, or tell you I am going to continue in my sin and there is nothing you can do about it, you are to find one or two other people, still keeping this out of the public, and ask them to speak with me as well. These are often elders or people I would consider mentors, not just random people from the church. They need to be people I would want to listen to. If I am still unwilling to listen, you and the one or two other people who confronted me are to speak with the rest of the church, still keeping this out of the public (keeping it out of culture, off of Twitter, and not allowing it to effect people outside of the church).
I am not saying God does not move and answer prayers when we gather. I believe there is power in prayer, but I believe the power is there when one person prays alone, when two or three pray together, or when two or three hundred pray together. But God listens regardless of the amount of people present.
In the Ancient Near East, cultures required at least one witness when a disagreement was taken to the court (if a woman was the witness, there had to be at least two women). This is where the concept of the one-or-two witnesses in Matthew 18:16 comes from. Take a witness that knows the character of those involved and is familiar with the situation.
In Matthew 18:18, when Jesus speaks about “binding,” He is speaking about forbidding, prohibiting, and declaring to be illicit. What this means that God will agree with whatever the church decides as the discipline of the sinner in verse 17 who is cast out of the community for not listening.
Verses 19 and 20, while yes, are in line with the concept of prayer, are actually saying God will stand with us when we confront another about sin.
I am not saying to not pray together as believers. I very much believe this to be beneficial and well as Biblical mandated. What I am saying is be careful when you quote Bible verses in prayer or teaching that you have heard quoted in prayer or teaching. Don’t take it at just face value, especially when it is not being taught on. When a person prays and says “God we know you are with us because when two or more are gathered…,” make sure you know what exactly that means. Don’t just repeat Biblical passages without understanding and knowing them in their Biblical context.
Go and pray. But also know that God is with you no matter how many people are present in your prayer.
Church discipline is important. If Jesus teaches on something, make sure you know what He was actually teaching on, not just what people have repeated.
 See Strong’s Greek #1210 https://biblehub.com/greek/1210.htm
Join me in finishing this year by reading through the Bible through a Psalm a Day. Find my reading plan here.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.