All posts by Jon Mitchell

My Thoughts on Matthew 18:20

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

— Jesus, Matthew 18:20

This passage has been quoted a lot in the past few days in reference to brethren staying home and away from the assembly out of a desire to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some are quoting it as a way of saying that Jesus is with them as they are at home worshiping with their families. Others take issue with that, pointing out that in its context it is referring to the withdrawing of fellowship from an unrepentant Christian rather than to a worship assembly.

Context is always good to take into consideration when wanting to determine the meaning and proper application of any biblical text.  One should always remember, however, that both immediate AND overall contexts must be taken into account.  Obviously the immediate context should first be considered, because it helps identify the divinely inspired author’s intent as to the meaning and purpose of the text in question.  Overall context must also be considered because the topic(s) the text touches upon might be further elaborated on elsewhere in Scripture.  The Psalmist wrote, “The entirety of Your word is truth…” (Ps. 119:160);  thus all of what the Bible says about any particular matter must be taken into account if one wishes to come to the complete truth concerning it.

Concerning Matthew 18:20, it is true that the immediate context of the verse is about church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20).  Jesus tells his disciples that they are to go to a brother who sins against them and tell him his fault privately (v. 15).  If he refuses to listen, “take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (v. 16).  (Some hold to the view that the “two or three” which “are gathered in my name” in Matthew 18:20 refers to the brother who was sinned against and the one or two others he had taken along with him as witnesses to his brother’s sin against him in verse 16.)  If the sinning brother refuses to listen to both his wronged brother and the witnesses, the wronged brother (and the witnesses, presumably) are to present the matter to the church.  Should the sinning brother refuse to listen even to the church, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17).  Since Jesus was speaking to his Jewish apostles and the Jews as a whole wanted to have nothing to do with Gentiles and tax collectors, Jesus was instructing the withdrawing of fellowship against the sinning brother at that point (cf. 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Tit. 3:10-11; 2 John 9-11).

Jesus then makes a statement similar to what he had given to Peter back in Matthew 16:19:  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:18-19).  The Greek rendering shows this to refer to binding or loosing on earth whatever had already been bound or loosed in heaven, showing that this passage should not be taken to mean that God is a genie in a bottle just waiting to grant you anything you wish so long as someone else makes the request with you.  By agreeing among themselves to withdraw from the sinning Christian, the church has done what God had already authorized them to do and thus has received Heaven’s approval.  It should be noted that since Jesus was speaking to his apostles, many consider this passage and the similar statements to the apostles in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23 to refer to the apostolic authority found in their Spirit-inspired teaching in the early church (cf. John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Thess. 2:6; Philemon 8).  While that is true, the immediate context of this verse shows that it also has broader application to the congregational action of withdrawing fellowship from the unrepentant brother.  This is an excellent example of the need to take into account both the immediate and overall context of a passage in order to ascertain the full truth of its message.  We will see how this also applies to Matthew 18:20 below.

So it is within this context of discussing congregational withdrawing of fellowship that Jesus now makes the statement under consideration: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).  As already mentioned, some conclude the “two or three” to refer to the wronged brother and his witnesses (v. 16).  Yet when one considers that Jesus then spoke of the whole church withdrawing from the unrepentant brother rather than just the wronged brother and his accompanying witnesses (vs. 17-18), a better conclusion is that Jesus is using the figure of speech known as synecdoche, in which a part is made to represent the whole, when he speaks of the “two of you (who) agree” and the “two or three (who) are gathered in my name” (vs. 19-20).  Basically, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 18:20 is him reiterating the point he was making in verses 18-19, that the church’s agreed upon action of withdrawing fellowship from the sinning brother is approved by the Godhead in heaven.

Since it is now established that Matthew 18:20’s immediate context shows that it is talking about congregational withdrawing of fellowship from the unrepentant among them, the question now before us is whether it is correct to use the passage as proof of the notion that Christ is present (and gives his approval) wherever Christians of any number meet to worship.  This is where examining the overall context of Scripture proves useful.

When examining the concept of Jesus being present wherever any group of Christians meet in his name to worship him, the entirety of Scripture proves this to be true.  The Psalmist wrote:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12

God is omnipresent (cf. Jer. 23:24).  Just ask Jonah, who tried in vain to flee from God’s presence (Jon. 1:3-10).  Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).  So we should not be surprised that he is present whenever and wherever we gather together to worship him.

This is made further evident when we consider other passages of Scripture that shows Jesus to be present when we congregate to worship him.  While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29, emphasis added).  The church (ekklesia, assembly) is made up of Christians who are part of God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:6, 9).  Thus, Jesus is promising that he will be present wherever Christians assemble to commemorate his death by observing the Lord’s Supper.

This goes along with what the writer of Hebrews brings out.  In the context of discussing how Jesus “bring(s) many sons to glory” (i.e., sanctifies his disciples) in Hebrews 2:10, the author writes:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.  That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Hebrews 2:11-12

Jesus is “he who sanctifies.”  Christians are “those who are sanctified.”  Jesus “is not ashamed to call (us) brothers.”  For this reason the writer of Hebrews quotes from one of the messianic psalms (Ps. 22:22) and cites Jesus as the one who is saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (emphasis added).  Jesus is singing God’s praise.  Where?  “In the midst of the congregation.”  Jesus is present when Christians congregate.

Keeping this in mind, it is therefore appropriate to cite Jesus’ words, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20) as scriptural proof of Jesus’ presence at any place where Christians gather to worship him.  This is true even though the immediate context of Matthew 18:20 shows that Jesus was discussing congregational withdrawing of fellowship from the unrepentant brother.  Indeed, let us also remember that Paul directed that the fornicating Christian was to be “deliver(ed)…to Satan” (i.e., withdrawn from fellowship) “when you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4-5), thus showing that withdrawing of fellowship was to be done when the congregation was assembled together.  Thus, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 18:20, even taken within its immediate context of the discussion of church discipline, would be appropriate to cite as proof of his presence whenever Christians assemble.

So the overall context of Scripture (cf. Ps. 119:160) shows that it is not inappropriate to cite Matthew 18:20 as scriptural proof of Jesus’ presence and approval of any assembly of Christians who congregate in his name to worship and serve him.  As previously mentioned, Matthew 18:18, when both immediate and overall context is considered, shows dual application towards church discipline and apostolic authority.  In like manner, the immediate and overall context of Matthew 18:20 shows dual application towards church discipline and Jesus’ omnipresence whenever and wherever Christians gather in his name to worship him.

This raises one final thought, the examination of whether Matthew 18:20 is appropriately used to allow for Christians to assemble away from their local congregation’s worship assemblies.  In the past, some have used this passage in an effort to permit their decision to not attend worship services in favor of secular activities in which they and their Christian biological family or friends wish to engage more than they wish to worship God with their brethren.  “Hey, it’s okay that some friends from church join my family for fishing on the lake instead of coming to church because, hey, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’  Jesus will be with us while we’re fishing for trout, so it’s all good.”  The problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores the principle of Matthew 6:33, in which Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”  It also ignores the principle of Hebrews 13:17, in which Christians are told concerning the elders of the local congregation to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” The shepherds and bishops of local congregations have set aside times to worship and study God’s Word.  If you could attend during those times and choose not to because you’d rather be involved in secular activities which are not essential to your well-being, you show both a lack of submission to your church leaders and a heart and mindset which far more carnal than spiritual.  To use Matthew 18:20 or any other passage of Scripture to justify these sins would put you among “the untaught and unstable” mentioned by Peter who “distort…the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Hebrews 10:24-25 is relevant to this question.  It reads:

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  

We assemble not only to worship, but to “stimulate one another to love and good works” and “encourage one another.”  The command here is not just that, but also to not “forsake” our assembling together.  “Forsake” (egkataleipō) carries with it the idea of deserting, abandonment, leaving behind.  The passage then mentions how this “forsaking our own assembling together” is “the habit of some,” thus showing that what is being condemned is a habitual practice.  The following verse then speaks of sinning willfully which would result in losing one’s salvation (Heb. 10:26ff).

Those who might use Matthew 18:20 to attempt to justify staying home from worship assemblies in order to watch Netflix with their families might say, “Hey, it’s not like I’m never at church.  I was there last Sunday.  I’ll try to show up next Sunday.  I just wanted a break, you know?  Besides, ‘where two or more are gathered…’  My wife’s a Christian too, and she was at home with me watching Netflix.  We even said a short prayer together over the popcorn and chips before turning the movie on.” Perhaps they might attend the following Sunday, the Sunday after that, and from time to time the Wednesday Bible classes.  Have they the “habit” of “forsaking” (i.e., abandoning, deserting, leaving behind) the worship assemblies?  Not necessarily.  However, by choosing fishing or Netflix at home over assembling with their brethren to worship, they are undoubtedly guilty of violating the aforementioned principles of Matthew 6:33 and Hebrews 13:17.  Also, as someone who had in my past definitely “forsaken” (abandoned, deserted, left behind) both the worship assemblies and Christianity as a whole for several years and thus fell into the category of “sinning willfully” (Heb. 10:26), I know from personal experience that choosing to stay home instead of worshiping God at church once in a while can very easily lead to full-out, habitual abandonment.  For me, it started with missing a Wednesday night and a Sunday night once in a while so I could do what I wanted to do.  It then grew to missing more than just once in a while.  Soon I was skipping the Sunday morning Bible class too.  Before long I was coming just for the morning worship service, and then it led to leaving after the Lord’s Supper and before the preacher got up to preach (because, I reasoned from misusing Acts 20:7, the early church really just gathered to partake of communion, right?)  Not long after that, I stopped coming to church altogether…and at the same time I stopped trying to be a faithful Christian in other areas of my life too.  It is a dangerous game, choosing to not come to church when one could in favor of the secular.  Do not put God to the test (Matt. 4:7).

In recent days, some quote Matthew 18:20 as proof for the legitimacy of the decision many elderships are making in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to suspend congregational worship assemblies in favor of the families which make up those congregations meeting in their homes to worship until such time as it is safe to assemble normally again.  I see a stark difference between these circumstances and the ones just examined in which a spiritually immature Christian could assemble but chooses not to in favor of the worldly over the spiritual.  For one, the reason these Christians are staying home with their families on Sundays is out of a desire to contribute to both their physical well-being and the physical well-being of their families and communities by not contributing to the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus which has killed, incapacitated, and isolated so many worldwide.  It is for this same reason that many elderships have suspended services until the pandemic is over.  Self-centeredness is not an issue here.  Rather, what is heeded is the principle of loving God by heeding his commandments to love one’s neighbor and do good to all, especially the household of faith, at every opportunity (Gal. 6:10).

It must also pointed out that, from my observation, these families choosing to worship at home are doing just that: actually worshiping from home and studying God’s Word rather than saying, “All right!  No church!  It’s Netflix time!”  I have no doubt that as soon as they receive word it is safe to assemble normally at the church building again, they will be there with smiles on as soon as the doors open and they will embrace their brethren and tell them how much they missed them and coming to church to worship with them.  That is a far cry from the mindset that would produce the habit of abandoning assembling together and thus falling into willful sin (Heb. 10:25-26).  No, that is the strong desire to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” and “encourage one another” that Hebrews 10:24-25 actually commends.  With such people, Matthew 18:20’s general principle that the Christ is both present and approving of their temporary home-bound worship assemblies is very much applicable.

Think on these things, my friends.  May God bless you and keep you and your loved ones safe during these uncertain times in which we live.

My Thoughts On The Toxic Masculinity Gillette Ad

 

Here are my thoughts on the Gillette ad everyone’s been talking about over the past couple of days:
 
  • The title of the video (“We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”) brought to mind 1 Corinthians 16:13-14:  “…act like men.  Be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”  That’s the best a man can be.
  • The video asks “Is this the best a man can get?” immediately after bringing up in short sound bites “sexual harassment,” the #metoo movement, and showing bullies chasing a kid.  The obvious answer to the question is no.  It brings back to mind 1 Cor. 16:13-14.
  • Hebrews 12:3-12 came to mind while I was watching the kid running from bullies, the mother comforting her bullied son, and the insults given in text.  My own childhood came to mind also.  I was bullied a lot in junior high, although it stopped in high school.  It was a bad experience.  I hated it while it was happening.  I did a lot of crying in my parent’s arms myself because of bullying.  I ran from bullies and got into fights with bullies who picked on me, and I lost some of those fights while winning others.  I was called all of these names and it hurt and hurt badly.  If I had my way, it wouldn’t happen to anyone.  Yet, looking back on it, I must say in the end I’m glad it happened to me because it made me stronger and better prepared me for the hard situations I would find myself in as an adult.  That’s how the world is and always has been.  Bad people do bad things to people.  When bad things happen to you, they can make you stronger if you allow them to do so (Heb. 12:3-12).
  • I’m glad more attention is being given to sexual harassment and demeaning of women.  I was glad to see the shots of news accounts of sexual harassment, especially the one where the man on the TV basically said, “We men need to hold other men accountable.”  It was good to see attention being given to sitcoms that have men treating women as sexual objects, the wolf whistles, etc. 
  • With that said, I also noticed the shot of boys watching women dressed in bikinis on TV.  This is one of the contributors of boys growing up to be men who sexually objectify women: when women allow themselves to be viewed as objects of sexual desire by men as a whole by dressing sexually provocatively.  Following God’s plan for women to be modest and save their sexuality solely for their husbands (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Heb. 13:4; Song of Solomon) is a part of the solution to this problem.  It is not the only needed solution, for men are responsible too.  Yet it does play a part and needs to be said.  Men do need to keep other men accountable.  Women need to keep other women accountable too.  In truth, we all need to keep each other accountable (Gal. 6:1).
  • The man putting a hand on the woman’s shoulder in the business meeting and “mansplaining” her is sexist, true, and I’m glad attention was given to it.  Yet to me it reeks of pride, selfishness, and condescension even more.  The thing that I don’t see brought out about those latter evil attributes is that they are not relegated solely to, or even primarily to, the male gender.  Attention needs to be brought to all the times women “womansplain” their men in our society.  I’m talking about the sitcoms from the days of Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond up to today where the husband and father is portrayed as the lovable, ignorant doofus whose longsuffering wife has to continually rebuke him for his foolish social faux pas.  I’m talking about the commercials where men are commonly portrayed as not even knowing how to make themselves a bowl of cereal because that’s how dumb men are.  I’m talking about the numerous cases I’ve both read that marriage counselors encounter and have personally seen as a minister where couples come to me and the husband expresses to me his wish that his wife would treat him as an equal instead of “talking down to him” and nagging him all the time.  In the end, treating others the way you would want to be treated — with respect and dignity — is the best any man OR woman could get, and many men AND women need to learn this (Matt. 7:12).
  • The scene in which a kid is choking out another kid in the backyard while literally a line of at least 18 barbequing fathers simply stood there behind their grills with their arms folded, simply watching the fight without doing a thing to stop it, and repeatedly saying in unison, “Boys will be boys,” was completely unrealistic and inflammatorily judgmental of men in general.  It portrayed the majority of men as being apathetic about violence being done to their children.  To me, that scene alone is probably the biggest reason the Gillette ad is offensive to so many, and with good reason.  I’ve yet to meet a single man who would even come close to acting like those fathers.  The majority of the literally hundreds of men I have known in my 42 years on this earth — men both in and out of the church — would be like the father at the end of the ad who stepped in and stopped the fight.
  • I appreciate the men in the video who stepped up and stopped the other men from demeaning those women.  From what I gathered in the video, one of the men being rebuked had called the woman, “Sweetie,” while the other one had seen an attractive woman walking by and had leeringly started to follow her before the other guy stopped him and said, “Not cool.”  From the video, it’s clear those guys were sexually objectifying those women.  So it’s good that they were rebuked.  With that said, it is not wrong for a single man to find a single woman attractive and be motivated by that attraction to ask her out on a date in which he treats her respectfully as a lady.  If an attractive single woman’s appearance causes a single man to do a double-take and want to pursue her in a way that is courteous and respectful to her and she wishes to be pursued by that man, well, without that happening marriage will never take place and neither will the continuation of the human race.  Men, treat women you find attractive (and women you don’t find attractive) with respect and gentlemanliness.  Ladies, let a man who finds you attractive treat you in such ways and don’t discourage him from doing so.
  • The best part of the video to me was that daddy holding up his little girl and saying, “I am strong,” with her repeating, “I am strong.”  Maybe that’s because I’m a daddy to two little girls.
  • “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”  Very, very true.  I loved the end of the ad which showed fathers exemplifying to their children what being a real man was all about.  It was the best way to conclude the ad.

I believe this was a good ad that could have been better.  I believe some have reacted badly to it because they perceived it as yet another attack on men and masculinity in a long line of attacks on men and masculinity in our culture in recent years, and I don’t blame them for thinking that.  Indeed, I believe not nearly as many would have had that perception if the ad had simply not had that one scene with the long line of barbequing fathers simply watching a boy choke another boy apathetically.  As it stands, especially in the context in which the video was release in which masculinity as a whole in our culture has been increasingly demeaned, I believe the ad has a good message with good intentions that got drowned out by a few poor choices in how it was presented.

In fact, I believe hardly anyone would have been upset with the ad if it had focused not just on men, but also on women.  If both men and women’s bad behavior towards each other and towards the opposite gender were equally shown alongside shots of men and women doing the right thing — if the end of the ad had both boys and girls watching while we heard, “The boys and girls watching today will be the men and women of tomorrow” — I think the ad would be applauded by the overwhelming majority.

In the end, bad behavior is a human trait that is not limited to a specific gender.  The solution will be found by both men and women, boys and girls, learning to treat each other with the respect and dignity God demands we show to each other.