This is the fourth installment in the “Tough Text Tuesday” series. You can check out previous posts on Philippians 4:13, Judges 11, and Titus 2 if you want to catch up. My prayer is that God would use these posts to deepen your love for the Bible and help us all read the Bible better and ultimately encounter God more clearly.
A word of caution: Most people, myself included, who misinterpret Scripture, are not doing so maliciously. They sincerely believe they are being helpful and their desire is ultimately to encourage others with words greater than their own. They may simply be passing on what has been taught to them by their pastors, parents, or friends. It is not your job or mine to go picking fights with other Christians (you know…people on our team) about what verses they want to stitch on pillows or slap on the sides of coffee mugs. Be gracious to one another.
Today’s tough text is Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This text seems simple enough. Within the context of Christians gathering together for prayer or worship, Jesus is there. Sounds good, right? But what about the woman who faithfully arises before dawn to read her Bible and pray, just as she does every day, at the kitchen table before her family awakes? As she so faithfully meets with God every day, is she mistaken? Is Jesus not with her in those holy moments because she doesn’t have another person or two with her?
Additionally, what happens when four or more people gather together? Every time a worship leader quotes this verse to kick off a worship set, I look around and start to panic a little when I realize we have more than two or three gathered together. As the saying goes, “Two’s a party, three’s a crowd.” Does Jesus live by the same axiom? Imagine: four people start gathering together and Jesus starts feeling cramped so he’s gotta jet to an even smaller small group?!?
Obviously these concerns are unfounded and illogical. So what does this text mean?
As always, context is imperative. Our text today comes in the middle of Jesus’ teaching on church discipline. Surprising? He’s talking about what Christians should do when they have been wronged by a brother or sister in the faith who refuses to acknowledge the fact that they have sinned against a dear friend.
- First, you are to approach the one who sinned against you (“go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” – v. 15).
- If that works, great! If not, “take one or two others along with you” to confront him again (v.16). Notice that one or two additional people add up to the “two or three” total mentioned in v.20.
- Last step, if none of that works, take it to the church. If the offending party won’t even listen to the church, he/she should be excluded from fellowship (v. 17).
This is the context from which today’s text arises. Someone has wronged someone else. We’ve all been transgressed and we’ve all been the transgressor. So forget about this text being used in a prayer meeting. Forget about it being quoted from a worship stage.
Instead, imagine this scenario. Someone in the church hurt someone else in the church. Instead of recognizing their own hurts, habits, and hang-ups, they have lashed out against one of their friends. Even worse, they refuse to acknowledge their sin when the one they hurt confronts them in love.
But then everything changes. They’re confronted in love by a group of their friends, all from within the church. They’re in home group together. Their kids all play together. They have listened to endless sermons together and sung countless songs of praise to God together. It is this setting for which our text is written; when these two or three close friends, who have grown close not only to each other but to God, gather for reconciliation.
The offending party recognizes their sin and seeks the forgiveness of the group and of God. They agree in their desire for reconciliation because they know they have all first been reconciled to God. And they can now take confidence that Jesus is in fact among them, as they seek to recognize his accomplished work in their own lives…together.
We’re better together. We > Me.