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How many times have we heard a pastor quote this verse to affirm the presence of the Lord in a worship service, fellowship gathering, or prayer meeting? “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). But in quoting this text this way, we misuse it by taking it out of context.

I still remember the warning of my homiletics professor: “Any text preached out of context is a pretext.” In this case, the common misuse is to some degree benign, because the presence of the Lord in gathered assemblies is a biblical precept and promise found in numerous other texts, and it is a valid implication from this text. But the misuse is still problematic because of what it can promote and because of what it causes us to miss.

The intention of this text is to assure the gathered assembly of the Lord’s presence as it biblically implements the redemptive steps of discipline in the life of an impenitent sinner.
The Context

In this passage, Jesus gives His church a clear process for loving one another redemptively. The text begins with a described situation. A professed brother is “caught in a trespass.” Four steps are outlined for our response.

1. We are to go to him in private with the humility of clarification and the heartfelt intention of winning the brother by God’s grace to mortify the entangling sin and pursue a new obedience to Christ.

2. If this step fails, we are to bring along with us one or two others who share the same desired objective (see also Gal. 6:1–2).

3. If this effort fails, we are to “tell it to the church.” This does not necessarily mean exposing the individual in a public assembly of the church. It does mean bringing it to the elders of the church.

4. At this point, the elders are to shepherd the effort to win the brother through “special discipline” in concert with “general discipline,” the regular ministry of the means of grace (i.e., preaching, sacraments, fellowship, etc.). According to special discipline, the elders would prayerfully repeat the first three steps and then, if necessary, implement the following: admonition, which is the formal and informal identification of the sin with warning of its consequences if there is no confession and repentance; suspension from the Lord’s Table; and excommunication, whereby the impenitent sinner is identified as a “gentile” and a “tax gatherer.” These steps are designed to deliver the impenitent sinner over to Satan and to the consequences of the sin in hopes of stimulating godly repentance.

Such discipline is identified in the text as kingdom “binding and loosening.” The text concludes with the sobering yet reassuring promise of the Lord’s presence when the assembly administers the steps of redemptive discipline in the name of Christ.

The intention of this text is to assure the gathered assembly of the Lord’s presence as it biblically implements the redemptive steps of discipline in the life of an impenitent sinner. It reveals the Christ-given blessing of the Holy Spirit, who superintends redemptive discipline in the church as the church seeks three gracious blessings: the reclamation of the impenitent sinner, the sanctification of the church, and the effective witness of Christ to the world through His church.

The Blessings

1. Discipleship: When a text is preached/taught in context, it not only affirms the blessings of the text but also sets a biblical pattern for God’s people in accurately handling the Word of truth.

2. Wisdom: Discipline secures multiple opportunities for God’s wisdom to permeate the entire initiative through the Word of God and the presence of the Spirit of God.

3. Sanctity: The presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit affirms the sacred endeavor of both equipping and empowering God’s church to reclaim impenitent sinners.

4. Speaking the truth in love: The Holy Spirit’s presence is crucial not only for the wisdom that comes from God’s Word but also for the blessings that His presence secures by producing the fruit of the Spirit.

5. Spiritual gifts: The presence of the Holy Spirit through the engagement of the people of God ensures the multifaceted blessings of the gifts of the Spirit, all of which, along with the fruit of the Spirit, are provided by Christ’s presence through His Spirit.

Taking note of context can avoid theological error and heresy, but it can also help us secure the full blessings of the text. In this case, we can praise God for the promised presence of Christ by His Spirit when God’s people love one another well even while restoring one another from sin.

Finally, let us praise God for Christ’s promised presence in the process of redemptive discipline as it assures us of the Holy Spirit-given power of God, demonstrated through the grace of God, abounding to the glory of God, before the face of God.

Matthew 7:1

1 Corinthians 2:4

Keep Reading What Does That Verse Really Mean?

From the August 2019 Issue
Aug 2019 Issue