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For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:20

For many years I have heard both members and non-members of the church say, “where two or more are gathered”, followed by affirmation to the validity of worshiping alone and not having to congregate with the flock. That use of this scripture could not be more erroneous. Let’s take a look at the context and examine the full picture. The direct context is found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter eighteen. 

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“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. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:15-20

The first thing we will consider is the orator and the audience. It is Jesus who is speaking, and the audience would be His disciples (Matthew 18:1). 

Second, we will consider the context which is found in verse one. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The context clearly shows that we are not dealing with Jesus approving willing isolated worship away from the saints. The context is about disputing sin between brethren. 

Thirdly, we will consider the formula Jesus has laid out for dealing with a sinning brother. 

1. (V.15) Talk to the sinning brother alone and face to face. If he hears you, you have gained your brother back.
2. (V.16) If the sinning brother doesn’t hear you, then take one or two more people with you as witnesses so that every word can be on the record.
3. (V.17) If the sinning brother still doesn’t hear you (repent) the problem at hand must be told to the church. (Note) “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17b)

It is clear to see that Jesus has outlined a three-part system in how to deal with an erring brother or sister. Jesus is not advocating willing isolated worship. 

Fourth, we will consider verses eighteen through twenty. In the final area of this pericope, Jesus is teaching about authority. Jesus teaches clearly that righteousness and Godly order will be met with approval, and will be upheld by God the Father. Verses eighteen through nineteen are teaching us that a righteous judgment agreed upon by two or more concerning a sinning brother who is not remorseful and repenting will be upheld by God. Jesus is instructing His disciples on how to handle a sinning brother and the steps to take to restore fellowship between brethren. Having looked at the section of scripture in question, let’s look at the passage in question. 

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:20

Having unwrapped the full context, it is clear to see this verse is not giving the green light to forsake the assembly in lieu of being with one another in person to worship effectively and righteously. Jesus is teaching that when church discipline must take place, He is with those who are engaged in these actions. Effectively, this is what we are learning in the study: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (in the act of church discipline where the righteous are gathered, Christ stands with us and upholds the decisions made by the righteous and godly).  

This quick study is not to say that Christians cannot effectively worship God in Spirit and in Truth while navigating the difficult winds of life and the situations we might be in (Rev. 1:10). Rather, this study is for us to be knowledgeable of the scriptures and not take verses out of context. We must always speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11).

Your Brother, 
Justin Gonzalez