The Surprising Truth About Matthew 1: 20
For where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20
Youve likely heard this verse quoted a few times during small groups, church services, prayers, or church meetings. Where two or more are gathered is most commonly quoted to give legitimacy to a small gathering at church. Meaning that even though there might only be a few people gathered God is still with them.
But that ignores the context in which this verse is written. The Matthew 18:20 meaning has nothing to do with Gods presence in small gatherings. To be clear, I do believe God is present in small gatherings. However thats not at all what Matthew 18 is talking about.
Matthew 18:20 deserves a closer look. Its one of the most misquoted and abused passages in the entire Bible. Thats a shame, because its actually a powerful and practical passage of Scripture that can really benefit us in our lives today.
So, I want to take a deeper look at the Matthew 18:20 meaning and see how we should apply where two or more are gathered in my name to our lives.
Lets start by diving further into how this passage is commonly misquoted.
Closing Thoughts On The Matthew 1: 20 Meaning
I want to end with a great summarization of what Matthew 18:20 means.
Mark Moore in The Chronological Life Of Christ says it this way, The prayer of verse 19 is not for anything we might plan or desire, but any judicial matter. The word pragma often indicates financial matters or legal decisions . And the two or three brought together in verse 20 is not talking about worship services. The word come together means united, not merely gathered. So what this text promises is that God will put his stamp of approval on judicial decisions among church members who come to a mutual agreement.
This verse is not saying that God is present when there are two or more people. Or that God will give what we ask when two or more people are in agreement. Rather its a process for us to follow when there is conflict and a promise that God is with us while going through that process.
I always cringe when I hear this verse quoted in church. I cringe because far too often Ive seen people twist this verse into something its not. And that is a dangerous practice that can have disastrous results. Gods word has some incredibly powerful truths for us today. But when we ignore the original meaning we often miss the depth of the truth of God.
Next time, pay attention to the context so that you dont miss the beauty of passages like Matthew 18:20.
Dont forget to leave a comment! What are your thoughts on this verse ?
The Second Prediction Of The Passion
22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
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Jesus Thanks His Father
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes 26 yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. 27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
How Matthew 1: 20 Is Commonly Misused
Really its not just Matthew 18:20 that gets abused, but also Matthew 18:19.
In full it says: Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:19-20
Heres how this passage is often taken out of context.
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The Pharisees And Sadducees Test Jesus
1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, `It will be fair weather for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthews Identity Audience And Purpose In Writing
So who was Matthew and why did he write this Gospel? Strictly speaking, all four Gospels are anonymous, meaning that the authors do not name themselves. Church tradition, however, tells us that the author of the first gospel was Matthew, a tax collector Jesus called to be his disciple . Mark and Luke call him Levi , perhaps indicating that he was a Levite . Little else is known about Matthew.
For whom did Matthew write? While Mark tends to explain Jewish customs for his readers , suggesting a predominantly Gentile audience, Matthew often presents them without explanation . This suggests that Matthews audience is predominantly Jewish. Matthew also commonly uses the designation kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God. Heaven is a common Jewish circumlocution for God, used out of reverence for the divine Name. While these points would suggest a Jewish audience, Matthew also has some of the strongest indictments against the Jewish religious leaders. For example, what in Mark is a brief warning against the scribes becomes in Matthew an extended tirade against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees . Jesus castigates them as hypocrites, blind guides, fools, greedy, self-indulgent, murderers, even sons of snakes. Strong language indeed!
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Rejection In His Home Of Nazareth
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Seeking God Not The Next Hottest Restaurant
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus gently inexorable logic reaches its conclusion in 6:3133. Because of the wonderfully inescapable logic of all that has preceded, Therefore, do not worry. The second reason why Jesus disciples should not worry about clothing and food is because your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things .
In this context, the adverb translated as first has a kind of superlative degree: above all or first to the exclusion of all others. Just as Jesus disciples can have only one master , so too they are to seek only one thing: the reign of God.
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Trust In Jesus Presence
Jesus promises that when we follow His process He will be with us. We arent doing this alone.
It can be easy when we are entering into a difficult conversation to forget that God is with us. Taking just a few minutes to remind ourselves of that and place our trust in Him can change what happens next.
Trust in Gods process and His presence. He will provide for you what you need to get through whats ahead of you.
To Say That When Two Or More Are Gathered God Is With Them
This is the most common misuse of Matthew 18:20. Often quoted by church leaders in a prayer at a church service or gathering that is dwindling and has less than expected attenders. This interpretation is used to assure church members that Jesus presence is still there despite their small gathering.
Typically it sounds something like this: God we thank you that where two or more are gathered in your name you are with us.
That sounds nice. But when you start to actually think about what this actually means it quickly falls apart.
If God is only present when two or more are gathered, what about when we pray alone? If there were only one person present God would not be there? Certainly, no one believes that . But when we twist this passage this way thats what it implies.
Most people that use Matthew 18:20 mean no harm. But when we ignore the context we can unintentionally cause harm. This verse is not talking about Gods presence at small gathers.
When we use this verse this way we can inadvertently imply things we dont mean. Not only that but we also miss out on the incredible, and practical, true meaning of Matthew 18:20.
So lets look at the context of Matthew 18:20 and see how it actually applies to our life.
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Typology: Jesus As The New Israel
In fact, a closer reading of Matthews Gospel provides a better solution. Christians in the West tend to look to prophecy for its apologetic value. Knowing something ahead of time is proof of the messages divine origin. Yet for Matthew, the fulfillment of Scripture is less about apologetics and more about Gods sovereign purposes. The establishment of patterns of fulfillment confirms that all of human history is heading toward its goal and culmination in Christ.
A Jesus-Israel typology is also evident in Matthews portrayal of Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. The term Servant appears repeatedly in Isaiah 40-55. Sometimes the Servant is identified with the nation Israel and sometimes as an individual who brings salvation to the nation . As Gods Servant, Israel was meant to be a light of revelation to the nations, revealing Gods glory . But Israel turned inward and failed to fulfill their calling. Jesus, by contrast, remains faithful to his mission and shows himself to be the true Servant of the Lord. Matthews summary of Jesus ministry in 12:15-21 cites Isaiah 42:1-4, Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight I will put my Spirit on him In his name the nations will put their hope. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills the role of eschatological Israel.
What Where Two Or More Are Gathered In My Name Means
We now know that the Matthew 18:20 meaning isnt about Jesus hearing our prayers in small groups. He does, but that isnt what this particular verse is talking about. Its about church discipline.
Lets look at the process a little deeper.
What Jesus is doing is Hes giving an order of process to follow when you have a conflict with a fellow believer. Heres how it breaks down:
One quick note on the last step. When someone is removed from the church we are to treat them as a sinner. This step is often misunderstood. Jesus gives us CLEAR instructions on how to handle those who are not following him. We love them. This final step is a call to love, not turn a cold shoulder.
Jesus is giving incredibly practical advice. Heres showing us how things should run in the Kingdom of God. But you dont even need to be a Christian to appreciate it. Anyone that works in any kind of organization could benefit from following this process in times of conflict.
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The Parable Of The Yeast
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 34 All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
True Rest Doesnt Mean Not Working Anymore
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The imperative come is derived from a word that originally was an adverb, hither. The adverb naturally came to function as a second person singular imperative, come here, and the form in this verse has simply supplied the active imperative second person plural ending. This clause strongly echoes Jesus call to the fishermen in 4:19: come after me. The clause here invites hearers to discipleship.
The way to find rest is to trade the heavy burden of sin and failure for Jesus own yoke . At first glance, it hardly seems like an offer of rest to take a yoke upon oneself. As Jesus continues to speak, however, he reveals that the essence of taking his yoke upon oneself consists in learning what he is like. For this yoke is nothing other than to become a disciple of Jesus, as his own words declare: learn from me. The noun disciple and the verb learn share a common root and a common meaning to be Jesus disciple is to learn from him.
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No You Wont Be Given Everything You Ask For
Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
This verse has three pairs of verbs. Each pair consists of an imperative linked with a future indicative. These pairs of verbs are tantamount to conditional sentences thus the first pair could be translated, If you ask, it will be given to you. In a conditional sentence, the main clause is, of course, the apodosis. Thus in 7:7, greatest prominence belongs to the three future indicatives: It will be given, You will find, and It will be opened. The most important actions in 7:7 are these actions, which the Father will perform. The entire thrust of Jesus speech depends on the willingness of the Father to give to Jesus disciples.
The Compassion Of Jesus
35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few 38 pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
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