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!


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