by Rob Lundberg
Continuing into this series I want to thank those who read the introductory post in this series. Let me ask you a question. Let’s say you are reading a letter from a relative you have not heard from in a while. While reading the letter, there is a sentence or a fragment of a sentence that strikes your thinking, to where it would be a good anecdote for application. And the saying that you are now using as your mantra is taken out of context.
Getting to the question, what do you think would happen to the meaning of the context of the letter? What about when we move to taking a passage and rip it out of context to make it say something that the original had no intent on meaning?
Such is the case with a very popular passage found in Matthew 18:20. Many of us may have concluded our prayer with “for where two or three are gathered. . . “ Some of you might not like what I am going to present here, but it has to be said. We should not and cannot be taking passages out of context and using them as a therapeutic mantra. Let me share with you what I mean as it applies to this passage.
Setting up the hermeneutical error
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Whenever I hear someone in church put this in a prayer, it is like nails going down a chalkboard or I want to look around to see who is in trouble with the Lord or the church. Why do I feel this way?
The biggest thing is that whenever you and I come to the Word of God, we need to interpret the text within its context. And this passage is a favorite victim for therapeutic interpreters to rip this passage out of paragraph, taking this passage out of context, and making it say something that it does not intend to mean.
What is the context really saying?
First off this passage is about what we need to do as believers when a brother or a sister in the church sins against us. Let’s looks at the full context. This paragraph begins in Matthew 18:15-19,
“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.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.”
So here we have the scenario. Simply stated there is a sin issue. It is a sin against another believer. Notice that it started from the offended going and speaking to the offender or the one committing the sin. From there, we see that others need to be involved in the process, which always has goal toward reconciliation. However Jesus takes the example further and shows how the church is ultimately involved in seeking to restore the sinner. Let’s move on in the passage. We read what Jesus says next,
“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.”
What do we learn from the context of the passage? There are four things.
First the context of this passage is church discipline with the goal of restoration. The passage opens up with “If your brother sins against you. . .” When you pray the “where two or three are gathered” you are missing the whole meaning of the text. the Bible is not a talisman nor is it something to make say what we want it to say.
Second the formula of where two or three are gathered is misused elsewhere in Scripture. The idea that is commonly promoted is that if there are two or more people gathered together who agree on something, and they ask God for it in prayer, then Jesus will be present and God will answer their request. Also in the passage there is the idea of agreement: “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask. . .” One needs to be careful that one does not align themselves in the Prosperity Gospel or the Word of Faith heresy in their application of this passage. What do I mean by this?
Looking back in the passage where it says, “it will be done for them by [the] Father.” Just because one or more prays this, God may or may not answer that prayer the way you want Him to depending upon whether it’s the will of God or not. This is not a hard, fast rule that just by having 2 or 3 people getting together, then and only then will Jesus be there or whatever we ask for God will grant.
Third, using and misquoting this verse means that you don’t need the church. By praying this phrase, you are essentially saying that if there are “two or three are gathered in [Jesus’] name, there [He] is.” I am about to say something here that many of you may not like, but it needs to be said. This is bordering on “Christian occultism.” While Christianity and occultism have nothing to do with one another, you still cannot use the Bible as a talisman or a good luck charm.
Lastly, for the blood bought believer already has Christ’s presence in them. What is so perplexing is the lack of theology coming out of our pulpits. If you are a born again believer, the presence of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is already with and in you. We read in Colossians 1:27 the Apostle Paul tells us, speaking of Jesus, “To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You do not need two or three others to join you in order for Him to be with you. If you are His, He is already in you. “Nuff said!”
Matthew’s gospel is so rich without our making it say what we want it say. If we would only approach it from a sound exegesis, and not read something into it that is not there we might just see what God is really want us to know and apply to our lives. Some will even go so far as to put themselves into the text. That is narci-getic and does not need to be done. It is not necessary. Just be ready to preach the gospel the way that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers.
Some of you may not like some of these points. That is okay. All I ask is that if you are going to try and prove me in error, I am asking you to do so using the Word of God. In the meantime I have just three word for those who still want to misuse this passage. . . JUST STOP IT
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Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a chaotic, “brave new world.”
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