I fully recognize that I can be overly obsessive about things like this, but taking things out of context really sets my teeth on edge. How many times have I heard people quote Jesus as saying “And if I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself” and then go on to pray “And that’s what we’re going to do here tonight, Jesus. We’re going to lift you up so that you can draw all men to yourself!” The only problem is that they’re pulling that verse kicking and screaming out of context. Look at where Jesus said that, and you’ll see that he’s not talking about “lifting him up” in the sense of praising him, but something else entirely.
The case upon which this passage is based is not quite as bad, but it’s still a good case for reading the context. How often have you heard people say before a church service “Jesus, you promised that where two or three are gathered, you’ll be there in the midst of them. Well, we claim that promise right now.” Now, let me say that you can possibly make a case for claiming the promise when it comes to prayer, based on vs. 19. But what’s the main point here? What’s the big deal about two or three? Why didn’t Jesus say four or five? Is there something significant about the numbers?
Yes! Back in the Torah, God laid out some safeguards against false accusations in court. In order for someone to be convicted of a capital crime, you couldn’t be put to death on the basis of one witness, since that one person might have a vendetta against you, or could be easily bribed. You could only be executed or punished based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
So what’s the main emphasis here? Church discipline, which is a phrase which has fallen out of fashion here in America, but which is a thoroughly Biblical concept. If there's a major issue arising between church members, or if someone is flagrantly living a disobedient lifestyle, then here’s the procedure. You must try to work out everything between yourself and the other party, and attempt to keep it as private as possible. Then bring in two or three witnesses. Then bring it in front of the church, and if the offender is still not repentant (meaning a change in lifestyle), then as a last resort you expel them from your congregation until they repent. The point of this is not to punish anyone, but to maintain order and peace in the church and to restore and reconcile a brother.
In this atmosphere of individualism and everyone valuing their independence, this might be a strange concept, but it’s vital. Sometimes I need to just look in the mirror and repeat to myself “It’s not all about me.”
Lord Jesus, if I’m doing anything to bring disharmony to your church, if I’m doing anything to drive a brother further away from you, then please point it out. It IS all about you.