In our last group Bible study a friend, recounted how a woman saw her distressed in a Walmart line, asked to pray with her and at the end of the prayer of comfort for my friend, prayed something like, “because Lord, where two or more are gathered in your name there you are also.” What a beautiful thing to do when you see someone distressed and no matter where you are, to offer a prayer. And what a beautiful sentiment at the end of the prayer.
But the question by my friend in our group was (She is a new follower of Jesus), “Does that mean where two or more are gathered God is not there?” Does that mean that when we are alone– we are “alone”? We assured her that God was indeed present even when alone. Yet, this Scripture which I though I new well, piqued my curiosity. Great questions! The next day my friend, Glenn, sent me an email of a blog study as it must have piqued his curiosity also. Again–good questions! So, let’s take a closer and a fresh look. Here is what Jesus said:
Matthew 18:20 (ESV) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Ah, but now, the rest of the story. Let’s look in context to these often repeated words of Jesus:
Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV) [emphasis added]
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Here is an interesting “God thing”: My friend in study who recounted this prayer in Walmart–she and I discussed at length Matthew 18:15-19 just the day before. I find this amazing! Yes, my friend, God is with us!
IN CONTEXT, Jesus is talking with his disciples about discipline among His followers, the Church (ekklesia [ek-klay-see-ah], a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly). Jesus was giving them guidelines of what to do when someone “sins against them” or in our words today, when someone “offends” them. Hmmmmm, let’s look closer!
First, these guidelines for conflict resolution are, in context, meant for believers and followers of Jesus, not the community at large. These are guidelines for believers to show how to live in harmony with each other. I would say that among unbelievers, the first step is a good and wise step to follow in conflict resolution, but that the second step would most often not be understood in a Spiritual sense and may not be fruitful. However, among believers, this is what we are told to resolve conflicts and disputes:
1. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. “ Sit with the person you are in conflict with and lovingly point out the fault and problem. A warning here that I would add: Pray the honest prayer of, “God, am I at fault at all here? Do I have a piece in this conflict? If so, is this a conflict of my making or am I adding to the conflict?” We must look deeply at our roles and our actions or words before we make an accusation of offense. Once we have done this, should we still feel there is a conflict, talking in a calm situation about the conflict is the first step as Jesus says. Our confrontation must ALWAYS be from a heart of restoration and true humility. We must remember and always practice these wise words from the Apostle Paul:
Galatians 6:1-4 (ESV)
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
This will allow the person to see their issue and hopefully correct themselves, again, all done out of love, humility and restoration. It is important to recognize that Jesus is not granting license to attack someone or everyone who slights us. But, with this, many understandings can be resolved.
What if this does not resolve the misunderstanding?
2. “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If talking about the misunderstanding or situation does nothing, the next step to attempt to resolve conflicts among believers is to take one or two other believers along and attempt to resolve the conflict again. YES, this is not easy. However, we must remember two things: 1. Galatians 6:1-4 and 2. Nothing worth anything is easy! We must often step out of our comfort zones in relationships with those we love (remember, Jesus what tells us in Mark 12:30-31, Love God, love your neighbor as yopurself).
It is not revealed in the text (Matthew 18:16) what the role is of these “others”, whether they are there to support the confronter or to bring additional testimony or, if they are there to witness this second meeting and to provide testimony should this attempted resolution to conflict need to be followed through to the next step. The hope is always reconciliation and resolution in love and the hope is that the matter might be solved privately. The hope is that the erring person might be willing to listen to the wise counsel of “others”.
“Pastor Jan, It’s not easy following Jesus!”
“Yes, my friend, I know, but it is the best way to truly live in love and in peace with each other. The alternative is to simply live in discord and bitterness. You choose. I choose the ways of Jesus.”
3. If the situation remains unresolved and if you are not able to come to a resolution, then Jesus tells us, “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.” By the way, rarely is this step even needed! “Whew, I am glad to hear that Pastor Jan!”
IMPORTANT: Let me point this out, the objective is never to be “right” as much as it is to help the sinning person to see his or her own fault, to repent and for relationships to be restored.
4. “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Even the law of love has a limit. Unfortunately, the last step is to disassociate with the person that you cannot reconcile with. I saw it best expressed this way in the Life Application Bible Commentary”:
“While all people in the church are ‘sinners saved by grace,’ and while no church will ever be free of members who commit sin, the person described here has a huge blind spot to sin, and many people can see it. Yet this person refuses to listen to those whom God sends to help. In the church, believers are to teach, challenge, encourage, admonish, help, and love each other.”
WHEW! Now we get to the question about our text today, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Many scholars believe that the “two or three” refers right back to the people in conflict, the offender, the offended and the people brought in. The key is that God is there with us, beside us as we seek to resolve issues. In all these steps, the purpose is not so much to be “right” as it is to seek to bring the lost sheep back into the fold of a loving community of believers.
NOW, let me also say, that I believe that Jesus was speaking about our relationships and conflict resolution and recognized that here would soon be a day that He was not present in bodily form, a day in which we would rely on the Holy Spirit as our helper in such situations ( John 14:16-17 ). Two or more believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit will pray for God’s will rather than their own. In doing so, their request will be granted.
Is it okay to use this Scripture in prayer though there is no conflict to be resolved? Yes, I believe it is okay. Why? Because the deeper and direct purpose of what Jesus says here, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” , focuses on the prayer of restoration and reconciliation knowing that the coming together of two or three believers when they realize the tremendous power of God in their midst. Is God with us even when we are alone? Indeed, yes He is!
Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
…Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
“You are never left alone when you are alone with God.” ~~Woodrow Kroll
And always remember, Jesus left a helper so that we would not ever be alone:
John 14:16-17 (ESV)
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
May you always seek resolution and restoration with a spirit of love and humility and may we always gather together as believers and followers of Jesus Christ knowing that we are never alone–He is with us!