My desire today is simply to shed light on a verse that it is very commonly taken out of context (Matthew 18:19-20). I have quite often heard this verse taken out of context and misused, including almost weekly in a church that I attended. At that time I was unaware of this misuse. Recently one of my Perspectives teachers made a point to note the context of this verse and how it is often misused and I was amazed at how I had been led astray for so long. I was shocked that spiritual leaders that I trusted could have led me astray (unintentionally I’m sure). I guess that is why it is so important to not just be spoon fed scripture or teaching, but to rely on God’s word yourself and the guidance from His spirit. To not just listen to one verse that is recited and let it get you emotional and led into action or new theology, but to spend time in scripture looking into the context of that verse and how that influences its’ meaning and point. As Doug so frequently says at church “context is king”. Doug’s favorite example of this to drive his point home is the second line of Psalm 14:1 There is no God. Without the first part of that verse that presents quite a contradiction to the rest of scripture, but when in context the entire verse is Pslam 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” That is the perfect, brief example for how much harm verses taken out of context can do. (thanks Doug) I’m sorry if this is redundant for any of you, but after my epiphany I just wanted to ensure that anyone who may have been led astray as I was can clearly take into context Matthew 18:19-20.
So first of all… the misused portion. I’m giving it in NIV here as that’s what I hear misused so often, but later I will give additional translations that I like better.
Matthew 18:19-20 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
I have so frequently heard this used in sermons, prayers and books to back up that when believers in Christ gather together and pray God will dwell among them and answer their prayers. I am not saying that God doesn’t answer prayers, and I am also not saying that God doesn’t dwell among groups of gathered believers… I believe that He does both of those… I just don’t think that this is the verse to back it up with. This verse when put in context has an entirely different purpose, let’s take a look. (Again NIV to be consistent)
Matthew 18:15-20 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he 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 he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
The context of this passage is about confronting someone who sins against us (or is living in sin)… not getting what we ask for from God. Therefore the two or three that are gathered, are the two or three that would have been confronting the believer who has been led astray. At this point they are being called to unite in prayer for the individual who would have been taken out of fellowship from their body had that individual not received (and repented with) the admonishment given first from the individual, then from the small group, then from the church. So these three aren't randomly coming together in prayer for their desires, needs and persecutions, but to present a petition for freedom for their brother. This outlook gives the verse a whole new purpose (at least to me anyway) when put into context in this manner.
Here's a couple additional translations just for kicks...
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” NLT
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. "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. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. "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. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." NASB
Till next time...