Matthew 18 talks about the Lord being “where two or three gather in my name.” Tim explains how we should understand this verse in light of the context.
Does Matthew 18 verses 19 and 20 imply that the prayers of two or three people are more powerful than the prayers of only one? If you’ve grown up in the church, you have probably heard Matthew 18 verses 19 and 20 quoted out of context at some point or another. Here’s what Jesus says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by the Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
Whenever we approach a passage of Scripture, it’s crucial that we understand the context behind it, the context of the passage. When the context is ignored, it’s very easy to misuse and even abuse a passage. Matthew 18 verse 20 is often quoted before or during a prayer meeting. It’s taken as a promise that when believers gather in groups of two or three, Jesus will be present among them and God will answer their prayer. But what is the context of this passage? What is the nature of the gathering in verse 20? Is it a prayer meeting? Is it a worship meeting?
No, this passage is actually dealing with church discipline. Starting at verse 15, Jesus lays out the steps on how to reconcile and restore a brother who is sinned against you. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his faults between you and him alone, and if he listens to you,” well, “you gain your brother back. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others along with you that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” He says, “if he refuses to listen to them, tell the church and if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” Essentially, remove him from the congregation. So including you, if you take one or two others along with you, you have two or three witnesses.
This idea actually comes from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 19 and other places, when legal cases needed to have at least two or three witnesses to establish a matter. In this text, Jesus is drawing a connection to this Old Testament practice. Jesus establishes that the church has authority even to remove a brother. Of course, this is a very difficult thing for any church to do, so He promises His presence in that judgment in a unique way. So when using this expression, when two or three are gathered, He’s saying in judicial matters, I am with you. You have the authority to do this, and it’s been given to you from above.
So this text isn’t really about prayer at all, it’s about trying to restore a brother and church discipline. But let me make one final point about prayer specifically. It’s absolutely true that God is with Christians when they gather in groups of two or three or two or 3,000. It’s also true that He’s with even the individual. Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into a room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”