I must have used Matthew 18:20 dozens of times to keep our spirits up if our church attendance has dwindled down to a faithful few. “No problem,” I could say, because Jesus said: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Being a “small group,” therefore, was no different to being in a large church or cathedral, with its huge pipe organ making your tonsils rattle, and the choir belting out an emotional favourite, and all sorts of familiar rituals being acted out. A pity for some, perhaps, to miss all that, because that to them was “church.” But nice to know that Jesus would be just as much in attendance if we’re meeting in a home instead.
Which I’m sure he is, but Matthew 18:20 wasn’t about that. In context, verse 15, it’s what to do when two believers have had a falling out over an offence caused by one of them. There was a process to follow. First of all, have them get together to sort it out, and hopefully the one who caused the offence listens and accepts he was at fault.
And “If he listens, you’ve made a friend,” verse 15 (the Message). Good. But “If he won’t listen,” verse 16, “take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.”
And if the offender still doesn’t care, or gets all defensive and chucks in a few ridiculous accusations of his own, then “If he still won’t listen,” verse 17, “tell the church.” Announce it to one and all. And if that doesn’t wake the offender up to the seriousness of his actions, then “treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector,” verse 17. Have nothing to do with him, in other words.
Refusing to admit to an offence is that serious. So serious, in fact, that when the church decides to have nothing to do with an uncaring offender, their decision is “bound in heaven,” verse 18. It has the backing, Jesus said, of “my Father in heaven,” verse 19, as does anything in church where “two of you agree about anything you ask him for.” Agreement among us is that important.
And that’s the context of verse 20, that Jesus is certainly in attendance with two or three of his followers when they want to sort out a problem and come to an agreement together.