Matthew 18:19 and 20 are oft-quoted verses that most of us know by heart. Verse nineteen is the favorite of the Word of Faith so-called Christians. It reads “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” Just about anytime you choose you can turn on your television and find people abusing this verse, offering to “join their faith with yours” or “agree with you in faith” so that you can have the selfish desires of your heart. They believe this verse gives Christians license to demand anything from God and that He is beholden to provide us what we want when two Christians believe in faith for the same thing.
The following verse is quoted just as often. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” This verse is often used to indicate to Christians that where two or more believers get together, Jesus is somehow more present in that situation than He is when a Christian is alone.
Students of the Bible know that when it comes to Bible study, context is king. I believe both these passages have far different meanings than we may think when they are examined in context.
To find the true context, we need only look a few verses above them. There we see Jesus discussing the method of properly dealing with a believer (or a supposed believer) who is sinning. He tells us first to address that person on our own. If he does not turn from his wicked ways we are to take two or three witnesses and try again. If he still does not listen we are to take it before the church and if he will not heed the warnings of the church he is to be cast out of the church and considered as an unbeliever.
Verse eighteen then says “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Clearly God gives the church extraordinary power here. When the church decides that someone is living a sinful lifestyle and excommunicates that person on Biblical grounds, that excommunication is binding in God’s eyes. God has given the “keys of the kingdom” to the church. You can read Matthew 16:19 for more information about this.
Verse nineteen follows this instruction saying that where two or three agree on earth concerning a matter of church discipline, God will do it for them. So why is it that many Christians choose to tear this verse from its logical context? Clearly it is a further application of verse eighteen. God is affirming that where the church makes a decision based on Biblical precepts, God will agree with it.
Verse twenty follows logically as an extension of verse nineteen. Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. What this means is that Jesus is present spiritually to validate the decision that has just been made. Jesus will help guide the church officials and give them peace that the decision they were forced to make was the right one. I see no reason to expand this verse to mean that whenever two Christians are in the same geographic location, Jesus is somehow more present there than when they are apart.
Now the improper interpretation of verse twenty is not dangerous and in a sense is not even unscriptural, for God is present where people are gathered in His name. However, I do not think that is the meaning of the verse in question. Evidently an improper interpretation of verse nineteen can lead to many false teachings.
I would be interested in hearing some further opinions on my interpretation of these verses.