“… For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:20 (NKJV)
I hear this verse a lot and thought it makes a good sample for a brief study on context. Typically this verse is used to indicate that when any two or more Christians are fellowshipping, learning (one as teacher and other as learner) but especially praying, God is close at hand. This is somewhat comforting and yet it leaves some questions.
Is Jesus not present with us (by the Spirit) when we are alone? Well, no, God is omnipresent (everywhere present), so that can’t be right.
Is less of Jesus present with me as alone, and more of Him present when I am with others? That can’t be right either, because we just have God. We don’t get Him in installments, with some assembly required. There may be strength in numbers, humanly speaking, but not an increase in the presence of God.
Is Jesus supposed to be “in the midst” by showing up as an apparition or mist like figure and be really physically present when Christians are gathered? No, we have the Spirit within us, and Jesus physically resides in Heaven.
So what then are we to make of the presence of God as being in the midst of two or three when gathered? We will have to review its use within the passage from which it came Matthew 18, and especially verses 15-20. The “big idea” of verses 15 through 20 is that of dealing with a sinning brother, so as to restore. The steps to restore a covenant brother are laid out for us, up to the point of being told that what is bound or loosed on earth is such in heaven. All the while, the attempt is being made to get the offender to hear (listen to, agrees and comes back into fellowship). So the stair stepping of methods and now this final declaration of a decision that someone is bound or loosed is a theme of authority. If you are not seen as authoritative by explaining yourself, the authority of two or three more is brought to bear and so forth.
This is the context of where verses 19 and 20 are coming from. Thus the gathering, asking and being in agreement about a judicial matter (within the congregation) is where and when the authority of Jesus is said to be present. The judgment being passed down to loose or bind is being carried out by the church and yet, it is also said to be by the authority of Jesus. So when you see the church judging matters of sin, it is acting in the authority of Christ, as if He were presiding over the case Himself. The disciples will not just have authority to heal, cast out demons and preach. In the establishment of the church, they will preside over it having the authority to judge sins, something these common tradesmen would have thought was only the duty of the Pharisees and currently their Master.