This is post #4 in the Commonly Misused Bible Verses series. So far I have commented on 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Jeremiah 29:11. These two verses are often pulled out of their contexts by well-meaning Christians. Matthew 7:1 is a very popular verse for unbelievers to misuse. Click on the links for more information on any of those articles.
For today’s post, I want to take a look at another verse that is frequently misused by well-meaning Christians. Bear in mind that I am not trying to pick on anyone or attack them for misusing these verses. Most of the time they are misused because we have heard someone else misuse them and we’re used to hearing the verse in a particular (but wrong) context, so we repeat the same error. This series is designed to encourage people to take a close look at Scripture before repeating what we’ve heard.
Commonly Misused Bible Verse #4: Matthew 18:19–20
Think about how many times you have heard someone quote or summarize this passage during a prayer or immediately before praying.
“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 18:19–20, NKJV)
The idea that is commonly promoted is that if there are two or more people gathered together who agree on something, and they ask God for it in prayer, then Jesus will be present and God will answer their request.
If you’ve read any of the other posts in this series, then you know that we need to look at the context to see what is wrong with the way many people use this verse. However, before we do that, can you see some problems with the idea that God will grant the request of those who come together and are in agreement in prayer? First of all, Jesus said “where two or three are gathered” in His name, so how could this apply to settings of four or more? Also, why would it take two or three believers to be gathered together for Jesus to be in their midst? Isn’t He already present in each and every individual believer? So even if one Christian prays, isn’t Jesus already there?
So there are already a couple of problems with the common use of this passage. Now let’s take a look at the context. This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline. Jesus said that if you have a brother who sins against you, then you need to go to him and try to work it out. If he refuses to acknowledge his fault, then you bring one or two more witnesses to help work things out. So including you, that would make two or three witnesses—recognize that phrase? Not only is it repeated in these verses, but it comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15 and more). Legal cases needed to have two or three witnesses to establish a matter.
Back to Jesus’ story. If the sinning brother did not make things right in the presence of two or three witnesses, then the case was to be brought before the church. If he refused to listen to the church’s decision, then he was to be thrown out of the congregation. I know that sounds harsh in our day because precious few churches practice discipline as Jesus instructed, but that is what we are commanded to do.
It is with this in mind that Jesus said that the Father would grant the request of two or more who gather together in Christ’s name and are in agreement. Agreement on what? On disciplining the erring brother. That’s what this passage is about and yet so many Christians use it as though Jesus promised to answer their prayers when offered in certain situations.
Before I finish this post let me stress what the Bible actually does say about prayer. The Apostle John wrote, “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14–15). John also wrote, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
So we can have confidence about God answering our prayers when we are obediently following Him and praying according to His will. If you haven’t experienced answered prayer, then perhaps you aren’t living in obedience and/or praying according to His will (or maybe He did answer it and you didn’t recognize the response because He often answers in ways we don’t expect).
Thank-you, I can not express how much of an impact your post means to me. I had also always had trouble with this, but I prayed in faith, believing that I didn’t need anyone else to be present. My heart knew that this “saying” could not be right. I use the word “saying” because it is scripture that is used out of context. I knew in my heart that God was not saying to me as a single person, that I was less than a coupled person. When we say that 2 or more are required for your prayers to be heard we are personifying and limiting God. Of course, God can hear our prayers, singularly.
Also, unanswered prayers are an answer!
Saints can pray and agree with one another. The Our Father Prayer is a prayer of plurality. “Our” Father, Give “us” thus day…Jesus is there but love, caring, and praying for one another is the most important thing you can show God. God said it’s not good for man to be alone. Now, God said that, yet man was with God right? Job was an upright man and yet the devil unleashed all types of vile things in his life with the permission of God.
I have wondered about this also since I live alone. Thank you.
I want to know since I live alone is God in the mist of me? Where 2 or more gathers I am in the mist. What about if it’s only 1 person?
As I mentioned in the article, every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, and Paul speaks about Christ being in us. So two people are not required for the Lord to be present. He is present within every believer. The article makes it clear what the passage is about, and it isn’t about needing two or three people together for the Lord to be present with His church. That statement was made within the context of church discipline.
Hope this helps.
Thank your for your clear and precise explanation, which makes perfect sense. I’ve long been troubled by that passage as it is often misinterpreted by many well-meaning Christians… If God was promising to grant our requests (any random request) when two or more are gathered in agreement, then why do so many of those requests go unfulfilled?
Glad to read the post, Brother. I’m a professor in Christian Theology in Visakhapatnam AP India & keen to verify the scriptures. Yours is a good work and have to appreciate. Keep on. I would like to read some more from you.
Dependency and reliance on God is vital. Submitting ourselves to Him and His Authority is essential.
None of us have arrived; each one is on a lifetime journey of Faith and trusting our Lord and Saviour to direct out paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes but in all things by prayer and supplication make your requests known unto God.
Humility is not allowing self to dominate your life.
Humble yourself under God’s Mighty Hand and in due time He will lift you up.
Fix your eyes upon Jesus the Author and Finisher of your faith.
Prayer is linked to our submission to God and His Perfect Authority over our lives.
Knowing Him through His Word and Prayer and being led by His Holy Spirit into all Truth allows us to hear God and pray according to His purposes.
God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Be still and know that I AM God declares vtye Lord.
There is the crux of everything to be still and to know Him. As the Lord Jesus prayed in His anguish,
“Not My will but thy will be done’
And we know that if we pray in accordance with his will He hears s and answers us”.
Very nice. True to Him.
I prefer the old saying, “Every prayer is answered, and sometimes the answer is no.” As you said God has a plan for us and sometimes what we want and ask for in prayer is counter to that plan. He gives us what we need, even if that is just the strength to endure. God is NOT a genie granting wishes.
There are also well-meaning Christians who believe if your prayers haven’t been answered that you don’t have enough faith or you must be living in sin.
But sometimes prayers simply aren’t answered because it doesn’t fit God’s plan, which is where praying in His will comes in.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
I wonder how much this man prayed to see throughout his life? I also wonder how many righteous people prayed for Lazarus not to die? And we know Paul prayed three times over a thorn and was told no.
Unanswered prayer is also Biblical, even when one is righteous or 100 righteous people are praying together, and even if we keep knocking and seeking and making our requests known.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Those last seven words are key. Jesus was more righteous than we can ever dare to be and He went out and prayed this three times. In the end, that cup wasn’t taken from Him because it wasn’t in God’s plan.
I really liked your explanation.