What does the “Where two or more are gathered” passage mean?

“I know God doesn’t require 2 or more gathered to hear our prayers. I have heard some say during prayer “where 2 or more are gathered in your name, there you are also.” The only scripture I could find close to that was in Matthew 18:15-20 which speaks to church discipline. Could you clarify this? Thanks.” –Tammy

Great question! This has to do with hermeneutics, context, and rightly interpreting a passage.

I have heard this verse quoted many times, yet I have never heard it quoted in the proper context. You are correct in your identification of the verse. I have heard it used in the context of church attendance. When few people show up the pastor says, “Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with them.” While, granted, that is a true statement, it is not what the verse saying.

Many times people will read one verse and not pay attention to the immediate context nor the grander context of the passage. They will then draw conclusions and interpretations from that single verse which leads to a failure to rightly interpret the text. This is dangerous and where false belief and even heresy can creep in.

I advise people to approach the Bible with this question in mind: “What did the original author intend this to mean, and how can I apply it to my life?” Sadly many Christians approach the Bible with, “What does this passage mean to me?” You could have twenty different answers and none of them be the actual meaning of the text.

This is called Hermeneutics. It is the discipline of seeking the proper interpretation of a text. To properly interpret a text, context is important.

You are correct with the context of the passage. The verse is said in the context of church discipline. It is not in the context of prayer nor is it in the context of people gathering for worship.

I have attached an excerpt from the New American Commentary, written by Craig Blomberg that hopefully will shed some light on the interpretation of the passage.

Sadly, these verses have often been taken out of context and misused. It ought to be obvious that God regularly does not fulfill a promise like that of v. 19 if it is interpreted as his response to any kind of request. In this context v. 19 simply restates the theme of v. 18. The word for any “thing” (pragma) is a term frequently limited to judicial matters. Here Jesus reiterates that actions of Christian discipline, following God’s guidelines, have his endorsement. This remains true even if they come from a very small fellowship, including but not limited to the “two or three” gathered in vv. 15–16. “My Father in heaven” links back with vv. 10–14 and nicely balances “two of you on earth.” God is of course omnipresent, but he is uniquely present in every Christian gathering as his Spirit indwells believers. In context v. 20 then assures God’s blessings on action properly taken to try to reconcile believers to one another (as in vv. 15–18). “I am with them” parallels “it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Jesus implicitly equates himself with God and promises his continuing spiritual presence in the church after his death. Echoes of the Immanuel theme of 1:23 (God with us) reverberate.” (Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, pp. 280–281). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

Thanks for asking!

Jacob

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Why don’t Baptists do exorcisms?

“Why don’t Baptists do exorcisms, but some other denominations that aren’t Catholics do?” -Hunter

Great question! This has to do with spiritual warfare. This is a topic that many either ignore or exaggerate, but a topic that is real and really important.

Firstly, I think and I would say most baptists think demon possession (as presented in media, which is where most people get their idea of demon possession from) is a misrepresentation of how demons usually work. Therefore, exorcisms are not necessary in most cases of spiritual warfare. Secondly, exorcisms as seen in movies are misrepresentations of how exorcisms are in reality. They are not biblical examples. In the Bible, when someone is possessed by a demon, there are no chants and specific prayers to pray. There is no semblance of having to call the demon by name. There is no holy water or crucifixes. Biblical exorcisms are a lot easier. Here’s why, and the third reason. The worldly view of exorcisms incredibly misrepresents the overwhelming power of Jesus. Demons flee because of Jesus.

You see this in how Jesus performed exorcisms, and you see this from the Bible in the power that is given to us over demons and even Satan because we have Christ in us. In James it says “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” That’s the power of Christ in you. Therefore, exorcisms as seen in movies, etc. are misrepresentations of the overwhelming power of Jesus over the enemy and are not consistent with the biblical example.

Spiritual warfare, in general, is a more prominent theme than exorcisms in the Bible. Ephesians 6 is the perfect biblical example of how to fight spiritual warfare – and we MUST fight.

I would say this, though: I think it is more dangerous to ignore spiritual warfare or to not believe it is real than to exaggerate the nature of spiritual warfare. The kingdom of darkness really is waging war against the kingdom of light. There really is a battle. We really are in the battle. We really must fight. But remember, Jesus really has won the victory.

Thanks for asking!

Jacob

Do unanswered prayers mean lack of faith?

“Is it a lack of faith, when you feel like a prayer has been unanswered, such as a prayer for physical healing for someone? “Everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already and it will be yours” Mark 11:24.” -Anonymous

Great question! This has to do with the sovereignty of God, faith, and the nature of prayer. This is a topic that many people struggle with, especially when fervent prayers have seemingly not been answered.

The context of the Scripture that is cited must be evaluated as to understand its intended meaning. Also, other biblical passages must be taken into account as to understand the nature of prayer and how it relates to this passage.

First, the wording around the passage seems to be hyperbolic, meaning, Jesus is using a hyperbole to teach a point, as He does often. Commentators believe the mountain being thrown into the sea passage (Mark 11:23) is as much a hyperbole as the camel through the eye of a needle passage that is just a chapter earlier (Mark 10:25). Many read this hyperbole literally and take it to mean that if we have enough faith, anything we ask will come to be, even to the extent of throwing the Mount of Olives into the Dead Sea. One commentator says though, “The faith Mark seems to have had in mind is not that which is needed to work spectacular miracles but to accomplish the Christian mission. A mountain is sometimes a symbol of difficulty.” The disciples faced much difficulty and adversity in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus. If this verse were meant to be understood literally, as many often interpret it, if they had enough faith, which they did have enough faith to heal people, etc., they could have not gone through those adversities. They maybe wouldn’t have had to suffer. They maybe wouldn’t have had to die. But, each one of them did just that. They suffered, and they died, for the sake of the spread of the good news of Jesus. Faith through difficulty is the most likely meaning of these words from Jesus.

The other biblical passage that must be taken into account are the very words of Jesus in the most faith-filled, heart-wrenching, passionate plea to God that has ever been uttered. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was not only about to endure agonizing torture and be brutally killed, but He was about to take on the full wrath of God from all the sins of mankind. This wasn’t going to be easy. This mountain of difficulty was laid before Him. He asked God to move it, but then you see the faith that he had talked about come into true effect. He says the words, “if it be possible,” and “not as I will, but as you will.” His faith was is in God’s plan, not His own ease.

History has proven that God uses darkness to help people see the light. After Job’s affliction, he was able to say, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). The early church father Tertullian is quoted as saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” God used the persecution of the early Christians to scatter the seed of the gospel to the known world. I recently witnessed to a man who almost died in a car accident, who is now in a wheelchair, and who just gave his life to Christ. He said to a friend, about his sudden interest in God, that he had heard of God but now he has seen Him. This man didn’t know he was practically quoting Job’s response to his suffering. This is just how God works much of the time. As Joseph said to his brothers after God’s provisions through Joseph’s sufferings, if we have faith as Jesus taught and demonstrated we can say the same, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

It isn’t easy, but in light of eternity, we can have joy amidst the sadness, and we can have faith when the answer is “no.” “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Thanks for asking!

Jacob

Does God love Satan?

“It talks about loving your enemies in the book of Luke. Does God love the Devil?” -Kayla

Great question! This has to do with God’s goodness. If God loves Satan, does that mean He loves evil? If God does not love Satan, does that mean that He is not all-loving? These are some of the underlying questions that this question raises.

There is no simple answer, and great theologians differ on this point. With that being said, I do not know if it is undeniably clear in Scripture, but we can do our best to interpret what is there. The passage you are talking about in Luke has a parallel in Matthew that gives us a little more insight. The Matthew passage shows why we are to love our enemies, and it is because God does. How does God love the good and the evil? By providing for both. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We see God do this even with Satan. Satan is as good as defeated, but he is still allowed to be active. Satan is a created being, made by God. He has intelligence and angelic glory. He, in a sense, has experienced the love of God, even as God’s enemy, just as all sinful humanity has experienced the love of God, even as God’s enemies, in a general, non-salvific way. So, in that sense, I think God does show love for the Devil.

In another sense He does not, nor do I think He is obligated to. Satan is damned to eternal destruction, without the possibility of salvation. He is evil, the father of lies, and seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that God wants to flourish. The Bible tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Satan fell because of pride.

We also see in the Bible that God does hate things. In order to be perfectly good, hatred of evil must be perfect as well. Then the question must be asked, “Is Satan all-evil?” If he is, I believe God is obligated to hate him. If he is not, there can be some semblance of love expressed toward him. I do not know the answer to this, though I would lean more towards the all-evil side.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that God is not obligated to love Satan. It does not diminish His goodness, but actually confirms His goodness. God is love, and that love is specially demonstrated to those He has come to save through His sacrifice on the cross, and it is generally demonstrated through His creation and sustaining of all things. In order to be perfectly loving, He must also be perfectly just. Therefore, He must hate evil. His love and justice do not contradict each other, but rather complement each other.

So, yes, God loves His enemies, but no, He is not obligated to love Satan, and no, that does not diminish His goodness.

Thanks for asking!

Jacob

 

Extra resources: John Piper; Cross Examined

Why don’t people believe in God?

Why don’t people believe in god, but they believe that everything came from nothing? Why is that easier to believe? -Amanda

Great question! This has to do with cosmology. Every single worldview seeks to answer this question, “Where did we come from?” Your question contrasts two distinct worldviews, that of Theism and that of Naturalism.

If I were to answer your question simply, I would say that people don’t believe in God, not based off the evidence, but because of presuppositions. Naturalism looks at the world through the lens of what can only be explained naturally. They presuppose, before coming to the evidence, that there are only natural explanations for everything, and that the supernatural does not exist. Here’s the problem: What if that’s not reality? What if the supernatural exists, and what if the evidence actually points to the supernatural? They would never know, because they presuppose away a whole set of outcomes before ever looking at the evidence. This is called bias, and bias is bad for science.

There is overwhelming evidence for the existence of God, both scientific and philosophical. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does the universe and life itself have such a highly complex design? Where do we get the concept of morality? And the list goes on. If you pursue these questions with a presuppositional bias against the supernatural, you will never arrive at the real answer, if God exists, even by looking at the evidence.

Think of it this way: Let’s suppose that you don’t believe that trees grow leaves. You are adamantly opposed to that notion. It’s an impossibility. Then you go observe a tree. What conclusions do you come to? Well, maybe the leaves grew the tree. Maybe the leaves were placed on the tree. Etc. The conclusion you do not come to is that of actual reality, that trees grow leaves. When you presuppose away a whole set of options, and the evidence actually positively points to those options, your bias has choked out your ability to observe reality.

This is one reason why people believe that everything came from nothing and do not believe that the cause was God. There are two other reasons, but this is the intellectual reason. The others are emotional or willful rejections of God, which aren’t based on evidence, so we can save those for another time!

Thanks for asking!

Jacob