“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We usually reference this passage to help define what qualifies as “church.” Whether it’s a large congregation or small, or even a cozy get-together with a few other believers, we can say that we’re “doing church” as long as we have at least two or three. (As if God can’t be bothered with an audience of one.) I don’t think that’s the significance of what’s being said here.
If you look at the chapter that it’s nested in, the surrounding topics also have to do with the church, but specifically with handling the negative things that can pop up from time to time. Look at some of the other items covered in the verses just before and after:
- an argument among the disciples over who will be the greatest of them once they get to heaven (vv1-5)
- the seriousness of guiding and protecting the faith of young children (vv5-6 “whoever causes one of these little ones to sin…”)
- the lengths we should go to in avoiding sin (vv7-9 “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”)
- God’s tender spot for the lost (vv10-14 leaving the 99 to find one lost sheep)
- how to handle a grievance with another believer (vv15-20 “If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you”)
- the appropriateness of forgiving those who wrong us (vv21-35 the parable of the unforgiving servant)
This short verse is more than a required headcount before God will grace us with His presence (which is bad theology anyways). It’s part of a chapter focused on one of the biggest reasons that God created the church for us in the first place – to learn how to grow and love in community.
People are a mess. They’re jerks. They’re selfish. They’re opinionated and overly sensitive. I ought to know. I are one! Groucho Marx famously said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member.” Scripture is not naive about how difficult and messy community can get, it addresses the ugly we’ve all seen at one point or another. Believers in community should strive to bring up our children in God’s truth and protect them from that which would pull them off the path. It should be an environment where we live purely, and lovingly reach out to the lost. It should be a place of honesty, accountability, humility, and forgiveness.
It would be soooo much easier at times to just stay at home, mind our own business and philosophize on love and theology without actually getting into the challenges that relationships can bring. But when we participate with a family of faith and learn to look out for each other, forgive each other, encourage each other and hold each other accountable – that’s when we have the right to call what we do “church.” And that’s where you’ll find God, right in the middle of it.
While using the HEAR method (see below) consider the following questions:
- How does seeing this passage in light of the surrounding topics change the way you understand it?
- Of the challenges of church mentioned in Matthew 18. which is the most difficult for you?
- Are you an active part of a local group of believers? If not, Belmont would love to be your church!
Highlight – what words or phrases jump out at you?
Explain – what does the passage mean?
Apply – how does the passage intersect with your life today?
Respond – how is God leading you to respond?
Jon Price, Associate Pastor