When two or three gather together

19 Again, truly I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about any matter that they ask, it will be done for them from my Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” - Matthew 18:19-20
Most of us will recognise these verses from the Scripture. And if you are honest with yourself, you have used it to talk about two things: 1) that a small fellowship is the same as a huge fellowship group and; 2) that when you gather and pray, God is with you. But as my regular readers may have realised, when I highlight a verse, I am normally not talking about the 'normal' interpretations by normal people. In fact, when I highlight one of these verses, it is normally because I am reflecting on how out of context we normally use these verses. These verses here are of no difference. We have simply taken these verses out of context and have done injustice to the word of God.

If one reads the whole passage in context and in paragraph, practising the proper habit of reading a Bible passage in its full literary context, one will realise that even if you do not consult commentaries, the Bible translators have identified the verses we are looking at with Jesus' teaching on forgiveness and the process of confrontation of another brother/sister in times of sin. This provides a hint to us that the topic of the passage couldn't possibly switch from sins and forgiveness to simply fellowship and prayer just like that.

To further confirm my initial observation of these verses, I consulted some other commentaries. Sadly, I confirm that these verses have often been taken out of context and misused. It ought to be obvious that God regularly does not fulfill a promise like that of verse 19 if it is interpreted as his response to any kind of request. In this context verse 19 simply restates the theme of v. 18. The action of Christian discipline, following God's guidelines, will enjoy the endorsement of Jesus. Here Jesus reiterates that actions of Christian discipline, following God’s guidelines, have his endorsement.  God is of course omnipresent, but he is uniquely present in every Christian gathering as his Spirit indwells believers. In context verse 20 then assures God’s blessings on action properly taken to try to reconcile believers to one another.

At the end of the day, the verses deal with church discipline, not something as chummy as fellowship and prayer. It talks about how God will ratify the actions of the church if the church follows the guidelines. Hence, it is about time that we can look at such verses closer to understand further what they talk about. It is also about time that we stop using such verses in such an indiscriminate manner. It reflects of our biblical illiteracy. Simply so.


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