By Ray Jewell
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
There are a couple of problems with how this verse is used. First, it comes across often that, somehow, a quorum is needed for Jesus to show up. As if he isn’t with every believer when they are having their own devotional time or doing ministry or working. Jesus goes with us as individuals as well as in groups.
But the biggest problem, again, is ripping this verse out of its context.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)
Matthew 18 is Jesus’ prescription for dealing with a believer going astray or sinning against another follower. The context points back to the Jewish legal code. In a court of law there always needed to be two or three witnesses to establish the facts of a case. Here is no different. If the offending party doesn’t respond to a one on one episode, to or three others go along. Not to gang up on the one, but to serve as discerners of the whole evidence. Maybe the guy bringing the charge is at fault too.
Anyway, it is in this context that verse 20 comes into play. Jesus is saying He will help the process come to fruition, preferably with the wayward one repenting and being restored. By the way, here is one of those instances where judging is warranted by Jesus, the very one who said “Judge not.”
Oddly enough, church discipline has gone by the wayside in part because we live in such a litigious society. I think what Jesus is getting at here is to make sure of your facts before accusing people of anything. But also that great care be taken to keep the people of God accountable and pure.