My wife and I were recently gathered with a group of fellow believers. As is often the case, we prayed together. No one was surprised when one of the participants invoked the ‘rule’ of God meeting with Christians whenever two or more of them are in the same place. Nonetheless, I have questions:
Does God only meet with groups of two or three? Does he meet with me when I am alone?
At the risk of sounding facetious, we hear this invocation all the time. Christian believers plead with God to meet with them because they are more than two in number. Sometimes we use the phrase to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that God is in our midst. But folks, such invocations represent gross a misrepresentation of Biblical text.
Calling on God to meet with us in groups of two or more is an idea that comes from Matt. 18:20, which says:
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
In some study Bibles, the verse is cross referenced to Luke 24 and the story of Jesus meeting the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Such cross-references are both irrelevant and misapplied in light of the context of Matt. 18.
It’s About Church Discipline
Context is everything in understanding Biblical truth. It is critically important to understanding the intent of Matt. 18:20. If you jump up to verse 15 of that same chapter, the context becomes abundantly clear. Jesus is discussing church discipline. He is discussing the concept of dealing with trespasses between brothers and sisters in the LORD.
Throughout the passage, Jesus explains how to properly apply church discipline. He also explains that God supports whatever discipline decisions a church makes as long as all the guidelines are followed. Jesus then concludes his explanation by saying that God is in their midst AS THEY EXERCISE CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
Moreover, the idea of God meeting with them in groups of two or three goes back to the Old Testament law that required at least two or three witnesses to convict someone of a crime. The same holds true for church discipline. A church member cannot be disciplined on the word of a single accuser. That’s why Jesus speaks about taking the matter to multiple people in an attempt to settle it.
In short, Matt. 18:20 is not a blanket statement suggesting that God always meets with Christians in groups of two or more. It’s also not a suggestion that God will not meet with you if you’re all alone. Both assertions are patently absurd.
Why It Matters
You may view all of this as inconsequential. You might think it’s not worth splitting hairs over. I get that, and I can’t make you care about something that isn’t important to you. But let me explain why it matters to me.
Taking Matt. 18:20 completely out of context is a classic example of our general carelessness with Scripture. Such carelessness is rampant throughout the modern church. Too many Christians view Scripture as a series of vignettes to be taken individually. We look at single verses and build entire doctrines around them. We take verses like Matt. 18:20 and make them say something they don’t say.
What’s worse, we fail to understand the truth of Scripture because we fail to account for context. Using Matt. 18 as an example, how many times have you actually heard a competent sermon on church discipline? If you’re like most Christians, you’ve never heard a single one. We quote verse 20 because it sounds nice. Yet we ignore versus 15-19 because they are too uncomfortable.
God Is Omnipresent
The fact of the matter is that God is omnipresent. He is in our midst regardless of the number of Christians assembled at any given time. Matt. 18:15-20 is a text about Church discipline, nothing more. It’s time we stop misquoting and misapplying it while ignoring what Jesus was actually talking about. For that matter, it’s time to stop treating Scripture so carelessly across the board.
Encouraging people to take the Scriptures more seriously is one of the Disruptive Reality’s primary goals. Are you on board? If so, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.