Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together in my name…”

In our series of Out of Context topics, we will talk about the misappropriation of Scriptures used to either garner control or gain material wealth from congregations. Scripture teaches clearly that the Word was not to be used in this fashion, and yet with humanity involved, it seems almost inevitable, past, present, and future.

Today’s topic is Matthew 18:20, often used incorrectly by pastors to push Church attendance or prove that God will only bless you in their buildings, at their appointed service times.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:20, KJV

In this Out of Context study, we are focusing on a well used and well-intended verse, Matthew 18:20. Almost universally, this is used to either boost up Church attendance when things are slowing down, or used to prove a false idea that without going to a Church building, in a group or corporate worship setting, God will not be present and/or bless what you are doing.

The Bible says in II Timothy 3:16, that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for…“. That means the Scripture has a purpose and a way in which it was intended to be used. In proper use, the profiting is a return on investment, that it would not return void, but that it would produce good fruit.

The rest of the verse defines how Scripture was to be used; “…for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” Thus, these Scriptures were not intended to be used to prop up a local agenda, a feel good message or even in worst-case scenarios, be used for scare tactics to dictate the behavior of saints of God.

The Context of Matthew 18:20

To answer that, we start at verse 15 of the same chapter. In many Bibles, Matthew 18:20 is titled ‘If Your Brother Sins Against You’. This paragraph of Scripture by the Lord is an instruction booklet on what could be a legal proceeding. And, as many things Jesus taught, it followed a tradition that the people in the audience would understand. Learning how to discover this is called Biblical Hermeneutics.

“One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” – Deuteronomy 19:15, KJV

Deuteronomy 19:15-21 is titled ‘Laws Concerning Witnesses’. To confront false witnesses, the standard practice was setup that it would require two or three independent voices to establish a legal case.

This was again echoed by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 13:1, “This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

We can ask the question, Why did he say two or three? Does that mean if we have Church by ourselves, or with 4 or more people, that it doesn’t work, or God won’t be there? Understanding the verse requires context.

So here is what happened

  • v15 First, if someone sins against you, step 1 is always to have a personal, one on one conversation and try to work it out. There is no need to go public, but let your relationship speak for itself and attempt to redeem your brother.
  • v16 Secondly, and if that doesn’t work, take with you one or two more, so that the intent of the Law of Witnesses would be fulfilled. Primarily, so that they may help attempt to convince the person to see reason and to salvage the situation. Also to bear witness for your case.
  • v17 lastly, if all else fails, you bring the matter before the church, as a corporate body to hear the case and to hopefully bring redemption to the offender. If they still neglect to see reason, then the church body declares that offender unfit for the Body of Christ and is to be considered as a heathen, an unbeliever.

Verse 18 declares that what the body of the Christ, the Church decides in this case, God will uphold. This is a topic for a different Out of Context article, as verse 18 is often used to uphold unbridled pastoral authority. Yet, this was the Church body, not the pastor or his board issuing correction and judgment.

Finally, we come to rest on verse 20 again;

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:20, KJV

God honors obedience to His commandments. As we’ve discovered, one of those commandments is the Law of Witnesses, to be used in determining cases of offense. Thus, in the fulfillment of that, Christ told us that where two or three are gathered together in His name, honoring the Law of Witnesses, he would be there to honor them.

While it certainly sounds good in a Church service to use this as a reminder to God’s people that He (Christ) is there with them, it should never be used Out of Context  to force Church attendance or make people feel guilty or ineffectual in their walk of Faith if they are not in the building every time the doors are unlocked. This Scripture was not meant in that context.

God bless, and I look forward to your comments, questions, and additions!

 

9 thoughts on “Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together in my name…”

  1. I just want to be sure I understand your admonition. I believe I understand you saying that it is wrong to use this verse as a tool to guilt people into attending church, primarily because that was not what the verse was intended to teach. However, do you agree or disagree that this verse can be used as a point of encouragement in general setting?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Anthony. Absolutely, read alone, the verse is encouraging to know He is with you! I’ve experienced it being used to brow beat people into believing their prayers/worship at home, in the car, or anywhere outside the corporate body is ineffective. Sadly, that’s just not what this verse was intended for. I believe that constitutes wresting scripture.

      Like

  2. A. Amos Love

    Interesting…
    I do NOT recall that verse, Mat 18:20, used by pastors pushing Church attendance.
    They could have, I just do NOT remember it.

    Most of the time, today, when I hear that verse, it’s used by folks who are NO longer going to The Building. NO longer a part of “Today’s Religious System.” The “Nones,” and the “Dones.” And, they are advocating for small, intimate fellowship, where all can participate and be involved. And, NO longer desire to participate in the Sunday Morning Meeting, where only a few, only one, get to participate, talk, teach, give their revelation.

    And, pastors would reject this, saying, the two or three gathered in His Name, was ONLY for the purpose of “Church Discipline.” The “Church,” 2 or 3, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth…” removing folks from fellowship, excommunication. And Jesus is there with us as we, and Jesus, execute the judgement.

    Like

    1. Amos, I come from a very legalistic, nearly a cult style church and much of the examples I work from are tainted by that background. In my old “building” this was was used to show that you had to be in that church, under that pastor, and that that pastor had absolute authority and control over you. It was using these scriptures out of context.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A. Amos Love

        Yup

        I do recall this being taught from the pulpit… 😉

        You write…
        “In my old “building”
        this was was used to show that
        you had to be in that church, (Often)
        under that pastor, and
        that pastor had
        ”absolute authority and control over you.” (Her 13:17)

        Oy Vey!!! 😦
        And, I believed it.

        Well, it says so… Right here in the Bible…

        Yup – when you’re deceived – ya do NOT know it.

        But God…
        Doncha loveit wen the Bible says – BUT GOD…

        Ge 20:3 ……BUT GOD came to Abimelech in a dream by night,
        Ge 31:7 ……BUT GOD suffered him not to hurt me.
        Ge 48:21 ….BUT GOD shall be with you…
        Ge 50:20 … BUT GOD meant it unto good…
        Ex 13:18 …..BUT GOD led the people about,
        1Sa 23:14 …..Saul sought him every day,
        ………………..BUT GOD delivered him NOT into his hand.
        2Ch 20:15 …..for the battle is not yours, BUT GOD’s
        Ps 49:15….. BUT GOD will redeem my soul…
        Ps 64:7……. BUT GOD shall shoot at them with an arrow…
        Ps 68:21….. BUT GOD shall wound the head of his enemies…
        Ps 73:26 …..BUT GOD is the strength of my heart…
        Ps 75:7……. BUT GOD is the judge…
        Pr 21:12 …..BUT GOD overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.

        Ac 7:9* ……BUT GOD was with him…
        Ac 13:30…. BUT GOD raised him from the dead:
        Ro 5:8.. ……BUT GOD commendeth his love toward us…
        1Co 1:27…. BUT GOD hath chosen the foolish things…
        1Co 2:10…. BUT GOD hath revealed them unto us…
        1Co 3:6…….BUT GOD gave the increase.
        1Co 7:15…..BUT GOD hath called us to peace.
        1Co 10:13…BUT GOD is faithful…
        1Co 12:24…BUT GOD hath tempered the body together…
        Ga 3:18…….BUT GOD gave it to Abraham by promise.
        Ga 3:20…….BUT GOD is one.
        Eph 2:4…….BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy…

        Php 2:27…. BUT GOD had mercy on him…

        John 10:16
        And other sheep I have, which are NOT of this fold:
        them also I must bring, and they shall “Hear My Voice; “
        and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.

        One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader

        {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A. Amos Love

    And, I have a little different take on v 17… 😉

    Where you write…
    “…the church body declares that offender unfit for the Body of Christ…

    I’m-a-thinkn…
    First After ”I,” Amos, The Brother sinned against,
    have a personal, one on one conversation and try to Gain my Brother.
    But, he, (My Brother.) will not hear Me.

    Secondly ”I,” Amos, “take with thee (Me.) one or two more…”
    But, he, (My Brother.) will NOT hear Them.
    And, I do NOT Gain my Brother.

    Thirdly ”I,” Amos, “tell it unto the church:”
    but if he, (My Brother.) neglect to hear the church…
    And, I do NOT Gain my Brother.

    Lastly “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
    1- “let him (My Brother.)
    2- “be unto thee (Thee is me, Amos.)
    3- “as an heathen man and a publican.”

    I’m-a-thinkn… Amos has the responcibility…
    On How ”I” treat My Brother as “heathen man and a publican.”
    NOT the pastor. NOT the elders, NOT leadership, NOT the Church Body.

    Mat 18:15-17
    v17 lastly, if all else fails, you bring the matter before the church, as a corporate body to hear the case and to hopefully bring redemption to the offender. If they still neglect to see reason, then the church body declares that offender unfit for the Body of Christ and is to be considered as a heathen, an unbeliever.

    15 ¶ 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.

    16 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.

    17 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A. Amos Love

    Hmmm?

    3- “as an heathen man and a publican.”
    How do ”I” treat ”My Brother” as a “heathen man and a publican?”

    Does anyone know what this really means?

    Many will say, kick him out, excommunicate, dis-fellowship…
    But, none of that is mentioned in ALL of Mat 18.
    Read ALL of Mat 18, a few times.

    Now, if Jesus, is to be our example? Yes? For His Disciples?
    How did Jesus treat the Gentiles and tax collectors?

    Seems Jesus, and His Disciples, hung out with, ate with, the tax collectors.
    But, it was the Religious Leaders, the Pharisees, who did NOT approve. Yes?
    And Jesus told these Religious Leaders who complained…
    “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”

    Mat 9:10-11 ESV
    And as Jesus reclined at table in the house,
    behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and
    were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.
    And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,
    “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

    But when Jesus heard the Religious Leaders questioning him…
    Jesus said to them in…

    Mat 9:13 ESV
    Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
    For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

    Hmmm? Maybe, WE, His Sheep, His Disciples, His Ekklesia, His sons…
    Are to be like Jesus, reclining and eating with tax collectors and sinners?
    My Brother who sinned against me.
    And showing Mercy?

    Is Mat 18 really saying – 3 strikes and you’re out… 😦
    I would hope, when I’m blind to my sin…
    My Brother would show me mercy… Yes?

    Maybe the Test for us?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent responses! Jesus taught extensively on mercy. Remember that his audience was still under the Old Testament Law. Grace does not begin until the Criss, so many topics Christ dealt with was to the law and he sprinkled in messages of Grace.

      Great notes, great perspective and great references. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s