Out of Context Verse – Matthew 18:20

What’s the “go to” verse whenever our church services or bible studies or Christian events are poorly attended? You’re already thinking of it, aren’t you?

“Where two or three are gathered…”

Finish it for me. I’m guilty of using this verse this way. You’re guilty of using this verse this way. It’s how we make ourselves feel better when we don’t have the “numbers” we were hoping for.

And we’re taking this verse completely out of context.

If you’re unfamiliar with the passage, let me list the whole verse for you:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. – Matthew 18:20

Man, this verse has made me feel better when I was a youth pastor, and only a small handful of students came to an event I was planning. And then, as a church staff member, I’d say it when Sunday morning attendance was low. I admit it, I even tried to conjure up the positive spiritual vibes at a few Promise Keepers events with this one.

But Jesus isn’t talking about our religious gathering with this. He’s talking about discipline within the Church.

I find it ironic that Jesus only mentions the Church twice in all of the Gospels. The first time is in the context of Peter’s famous confession of Matthew 16. The second – the passage in questions here –  is how to deal with conflict in the Church.

Matthew 18:15-20 is the famous passage where Jesus discusses the dreaded “Church discipline” concept. What happens when things between Believers get messed up. Or better yet, what happens when a Believer is living in open sin. That’s really what this passage is about.

Someone is blatantly, openly sinning and others have seen it. Not one person alone; that wouldn’t be admissible as judgment could only be rendered on the testimony of two or more witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). One of the witnesses confronts the person living in open rebellion. If he doesn’t repent, that person goes along with another eyewitness and confronts them again. If the person still refuses to repent, the whole Church is responsible for dealing with the issue.

And what’s the issue? What’s the ruling? The Body of Messiah is given immense and highly unusual authority in this situation. A ruling is made by a group of leaders. And Jesus says that His Spirit will be among them as they make this ruling.

I don’t get the warm fuzzies from this verse anymore.

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