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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh, That's Not Right! -- Matthew 18:20

You've heard it. I know you have. If you've spent any time in Christian gatherings you've heard that heartwarming verse, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" (Matt 18:20). Ah, yes, that's so nice to remember when you're in a prayer circle of two or three holding hands and praying together. Jesus is there. Now, if you were by yourself, you'd be out of luck. Jesus clearly doesn't show up for that ... right?

This is one of those examples of popular uses without proper use. It's a nice passage yanked mercilessly out of context and handed over, bleeding badly, as an offering to you, the reader. Don't take it. Instead, let's look at what it really says.

Remember, context, context, context. What is the context of this verse? Well, Jesus is in the middle of an explanation to His disciples about church discipline (Matt 18:15-17). He has explained about the procedure of pursuing a sinning brother. You know how it goes. 1) Go to him in private. 2) If he doesn't repent, take one or two or more witnessses to call him to repent. 3) If he doesn't repent, tell it to the church. 4) If he doesn't repent, shun him. Very clear, methodical, and straightforward. Jesus, in the same line of thinking, goes on to tell the importance of how the church responds to unrepentant sinners from their midst. "Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven", He says.

And then ... oh, look! ... we run into another misapplied verse. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 18:19). Now, let's see. When do you hear that? Generally you hear it when you're being encouraged to pray. You may even have heard people pray that way, "agreeing" in order to make it so. Almost a way of twisting God's arm. But that's not the context. What is the context? Jesus is talking about those same people who agreed that the sinning brother needed to repent. When Christians work in harmony for the repentance of a sinning brother, God works.

It is, then, in this same context that we find the verse in question. Remember, we've already established the "two or three". It is required for calling a sinning Christian to repentance. It is the same group that are calling on God to work on the sinner's heart. The topic is dealing with a sinning believer and Jesus is telling His disciples, "When you do, I am there." Jesus is presiding. Christ is ruling. Church leadership may act on the call to repentance, but it is the Son's divine presence that gives it authority, substance, and hope for results.

To be honest, I've always had a hard time with the notion that Jesus was present when two or more were gathered. Where was He when I needed Him most, when I was alone? Why did He refuse to be there then? Wasn't He omnipresent? And, of course, the whole concept starts to break down in that light. No, Jesus wasn't promising to arrive at group gatherings but avoid private times. He was calling His own to accountability. "When you bring about church discipline, remember that I'm there. That should give you the strength and authority to do it when it is necessary. It should give you pause when doing it incorrectly. Remember who is in charge. It's not you." God calls us to serve Him, to perform His work with His authority and His power. That is what's in view here.

1 comment:

cl said...

Hi there.

I Googled the "Why won't God heal amputees" nonsense and came across your blog. Your post on the amputees issue was much appreciated, but then I read the last four posts and I have been edified by each of them.

Thank you for this place, I will read more often.