Friday, November 9, 2012

What is the meaning of (Matthew 18:20)?

Is this verse talking about church gatherings (ie. worship)?

During my childhood I attended a very small church and I have frequently preached for congregations that were small in size. It is a common in smaller assemblies for the preacher or song leader to make a statement such as this “All though we may be small in number today, we can be assured that God is here with us because Matthew 18:20 states ‘where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them’”.

I will be the first to tell you that there was a time in my ministry where I used this verse in this way. After sitting down and studying this passage, however, I came to the conclusion that I was not using the Word of God properly. This verse is not intended to enforce the point that God is in a small assembly of believers. Do not get me wrong, I 100% believe that God is pleased with and is present in a worship gathering of any size, but I also believe that this is not what the aforementioned verse is in reference to.

The Context of the Passage
Beginning in Matthew 18:10 Jesus addresses the desire of God for sinners to be restored. He informs the listeners that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than the “ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matt. 18:13). Following the discussion of the lost sheep, Jesus illustrates how an individual or church can aid in restoring a lost brother.

The Text Explained
(Matthew 18:15) “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother".

The first step in restoring a brother in sin is going to him in private and trying to get him to repent. If he repents, rejoice because you have gained your brother back.

(Matthew 18:16-17) But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

In these two verses we have the 2nd and 3rd steps that are to be taken in attempt to restore a brother in sin (a lost sheep).

If this brother did not listen to reason when you talked to him as an individual, it is now time to involve a few other Christians. Jesus said that you should take one or two others with you, so they can witness this brother’s behavior and encourage him to repent.

The final step in this process is to come about the if brother in sin refuses to repent after you and others have both talked to him and encouraged him to. Sadly, now this brother’s sinful life must be made public, it is to be taken before the church and the church needs to withdraw themselves from this lost sheep until he returns.

(Matthew 18:18-20) "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed  in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus now tells his followers that they have the authority to make a decision to withdraw from a brother in sin. They can “bind” and “loose” in regards to this situation.

Jesus assures them that if the 2 or 3 witnesses affirm that this individual refuses to repent, that God supports them in their decision to withdraw from this unrepentant brother.

Christians can be assured that if they are following the steps in this passage that God is with them. The 2 or 3 people gathered with the support of God to encourage a lost brother can know that God is with them, because in this situation Jesus states “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20).

Although it is true that God is in the midst of 2 or 3 people in worship, this is not what Jesus had in mind when He preached these words in Matthew 18. Often times Christians will make correct statements, but then try to give validity to their statements with verses that do not apply. Bible verses are more than just little sayings to be thrown around without any regard for the context in which they lie. Is using this verse in an incorrect context some sort of grievous sin?, of course not!. We should, however, as we grow and mature in Christ, strive to use the Bible correctly.