Text: Matthew 18:20 | Listen to Message
Jesus told his disciples, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” If ever there were a promise to be claimed by every poorly-attended prayer meeting, small group, and Christian marriage, this would be the one! Jesus is right here with us, amen?
It’s commendable that we want a God who’s near, and not far off, whenever we gather in his name. But is that what this verse is really saying?
Think about this: What are you unintentionally saying about one believer praying alone, whether by choice or by compulsion (like imprisonment)? Is God not present with him/her? Or not as present? What about a gathering of four or more believers?
Besides, why is the first word of this verse “for”? Isn’t that telling us the context is really important, and we need to pay attention to what was said right before this?
In context, Jesus isn’t talking about a prayer or worship meeting; he’s talking about what you do when another professing believer sins against you. This section of Scripture has often been referred to as the process of “church discipline,” but it sounds like Jesus was talking less about discipline (as we tend to think of it) and more about how to reconcile with and restore each other when sin happens.
I won’t recount the whole process here, but suffice it to say, the goal is never to humiliate or get even with a person who’s hurt you. The goal is not to expose or excommunicate. The goal is always restoration and reconciliation. The larger context makes that goal abundantly clear:
The story right before this is the parable of the lost sheep, where God always leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one. And when that one is restored, heaven rejoices.
The story right after this is a conversation about forgiveness, in which Jesus tells his disciples they don’t just forgive seven times, but seventy times seven. The point is true believers are always eager to forgive, no matter how many times they’ve been hurt or offended.
So whatever you call it, “church discipline” or brotherly restoration is not punitive, but restorative. It doesn’t always end well, because the sinner being called to repent must actually repent, but this is always the heart of how we treat one another when sin happens.
Now, back to our key verse: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In context, the two or three are gathered to call an unrepentant brother or sister to confess their sin and be restored.
To gather in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean to pray some formula that invites Jesus to join you. It means to operate under his authority as his representatives. It means to act in a manner that’s consistent with what Christ himself would do (as outlined in his Word).
Here’s the point: Calling a brother or sister to repentance is hard. Really hard. Those who do it in obedience to Christ, and for the purity and protection of the church, and for the restoration of that erring believer, will be attacked and slandered. Others, ironically, will judge and separate from them! But Jesus says, “When you do what I’ve called you to do, I’m with you. You have my authority and pleasure. Well done, faithful servants.”