Recently my mind hovered on this verse, Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” and a question came to mind…Is Jesus not around if I’m by myself? Is my faith ineffective if I pray to the Lord when no one else is with me? If I worship God in my car while driving, or in my home office, does this mean He isn’t with me? What if there is four, five or more gathered together? Is that too much?
We of course know this isn’t true, Jesus dwells in the heart of each man and women of faith. He promised to hear the prayers of each saint. He promised that if he could clothe the lily of the valley and feed the sparrow, how much more would he care for each of his children. So then why do we use this verse so out of place? Probably because the wording fits a modern narrative.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:20, KJV
Then I stumbled upon a blog from Tim Chaffey, Midwest Apologetics and his series on Misused Verses and this started making sense. In ancient legal matters, it required two or three witnesses for any legal matter to be solved. Paul repeated this notion in I Corinthians 13:1 as he disciplined/warned the church;
“This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” – 2 Corinthians 13:1, KJV
Now, I’ve always heard Matthew 18:20 used to create a sense of urgency in Church attendance, that God will not bless and work in the highest ways if you are at home or not at the ‘building’ during organized worship services. (I’ve even heard the argument that how long you have service and/or pray (longer the better) determines the effectiveness of it) And here is the out of context crux. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with Church attendance. Sure, the wording fits for the narrative of organized religion, and it makes great Scripture art for the front door, but it is wildly out of context. A single glance at the pretense makes it very clear.
If Your Brother Sins Against You
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:15-20, KJV
This also enlightens me to a verse buried in here used to create legalism, or legalistic authority. Being a recovering legalist, I’m almost ashamed I haven’t caught these two out of context uses before! Right in the middle of this contextual backdrop of proper discipline of unruly church members is the verse used all the time (at least it was in my background) to justify unlimited and unbridled pastoral authority:
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 18:18, KJV
Considering that the entire context of this passage of Scriptures is a demonstration of using proper methods for discipline, it also makes sense that ‘Whatsoever ye shall bind…ye shall loose” is contextually applied as to say;
Whatever this court (using ample witnesses and due process) decides shall be honored by God. Not the words of one man, but all the gathered witnesses and yay, even the whole Church.
Let’s pray to use these Scriptures appropriately and in the meaning they were delivered, not eisegetically abstracting meanings that were never intended, just to fit our modern narratives!