"Where Two or Three Are Gathered"

Matthew 18:20 (ESV)
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This verse is quoted frequently and we hear it often expressed in a corporate worship setting, but what does Jesus really mean in this verse?

If we look at it apart from the surrounding verses, it would appear that if we want Jesus to really hear our cries and petitions, we better have a couple of others around us when we pray. And only two or three, not four or more. Sounds a little off, right? This is another great example of understanding the context in which a verse is delivered.

Depending on the translation used, the heading of this section of Scripture, Matthew 18:15-20, reads “If Your Brother Sins Against You” (ESV). This section is discussing church discipline and the steps one should take in order to reconcile a brother who has sinned against another. Jesus states that the first step is to meet with the individual alone to try to remedy the issue. If he does not acknowledge his error, then you are to bring in two or three witnesses to establish evidence of an unwillingness to admit wrong. The idea behind taking two or three witnesses comes from how legal cases were settled historically among the Jews. Here Jesus is referring to the portion of Moses’ discourse on the statutes and ordinances received directly from God, in particular Deuteronomy 19:15. (Side note: Jesus sure did quote Deuteronomy a lot….).

If the individual still did not agree to make amends, then it goes before the church assembly. Upon refusal at that point, the sinning person would be be removed from the congregation. This might sound harsh, but this is the way church discipline is supposed to be—whether we do it enough anymore, I’m not sure. So when Jesus stated, “Where two or three are gathered….” He is referring to His authority being present in conducting church discipline, not in regarding prayer. To put it another way, when the church renders matters of discipline that are Scripturally sound, they can be assured they are doing the right thing and that He is spiritually present in their decision.

I can find nowhere in the Bible where God implies that He listens any differently to one person praying than He does to two, ten, or five hundred. To the opposite, there are many, many verses that commend us to individual prayer as a regular part of our devotion and worship (James 5: 14-18; 1 John 5:14-15; 1 John 3:22; Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18, just to name a few).

As a final note, please do not take this and treat it as an “aha” moment if someone else uses this in a public prayer setting. This would be against everything Christ teaches. None of us are perfect and likely the person meant well in using this verse. If the opportunity presents itself, present your knowledge of this verse one-on-one, and always in a spirit of humility.