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We Must Understand Scripture by Context

A truth may be spoken in a class or from a pulpit that has solid scriptural basis. At times the scripture given to prove a true statement has nothing to do with the teaching of that passage. Proper understanding can only come from scripture that is used properly (II Tim. 2:15).

An example of a truth spoken, but a passage that is not teaching that truth is in Mt. 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  This passage has been cited many times over the years to prove that if some brethren want to go hunting over the weekend, they can pack a travel communion and go to the hunt. Or if a family doesn’t feel like getting out on Sunday morning for services, they can observe the Lord’s Supper at home together, and the Lord is with them. These are not truths, but excuses made by taking a passage out of context. This passage is also used to show that Jesus is always present among His saints, even in small numbers.

The truth is that there is not a place where we can go where the Lord is not.  The Psalmist in Psalms 139:7-10 says; 7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” The thought of wherever we are the Lord is, is truth, but Jesus in Mt. 18:20 is not considering this particular truth in this passage. What is the context?

In vs. 18 Jesus says; 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The actual wording here as Nestle in his Interlinear of the New Testament renders the passage; “Truly I say to you, whatever things ye bind on the earth shall be having been bound in heaven, and whatever things ye loose on the earth shall be having been  loosed in heaven.” Jesus was not giving legislative authority to men, but rather they were to administer God’s Divine will to man. This agrees with the statement in Jer. 10:23; “…the way of man is not within himself…” Man is directed by God; God decides what truth is.

In vs. 19 the Lord said; 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” In this passage Jesus is not giving power to men to decide truth, the agreement is based on inspired direction from God. A principle of verification of truth is the like testimony of witnesses. Under the Old Law a person could not be condemned except; “6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death,” Duet. 17:6. And in the New Testament Jesus said in Jn. 8:17-18; 17 It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.”  Also Paul relates to this point I II Cor. 13:1 “This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” What Jesus is saying in Mt. 18:19 is that when a teaching was given by a man claiming that teaching to be of God, verification of another inspired man was to be sought to determine revealed harmony of truth. This is what led John to say in I Jn. 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Verification of truth is the teaching and context of Matthew 18:19.

Finally, in vs. 20 Jesus said; 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. The “gathering” that Jesus mentions here is not the gathering of disciples together in an assembly. He uses this terminology based on what He already said in vs. 18-19. The “gathering” is the giving of teaching which is attributed to God, being verified at the mouth of “two or three”. This could be in an assembly, or in a home, or at a market place wherever God’s word was being taught. As Christians, we are to assemble together in a local church to remember the Lord’s death (I Cor. 11:20-26), to teach and edify one another (Heb. 10:24-25), and to worship our God in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). Jesus was in the “midst” of them in the sense of approval when truth was verified. It has nothing to do with a determination by some to have an assembly separate and apart from the local church.

This or any other passage is not to be taken out of its context, even if we are stating a truth. If we use passages out of their context, even though a truth is spoken, we miss a teaching that is given in that passage. Let’s be true to the context, handling God’s word aright (II Tim. 2:15) and learn from God’s will.

- Garren Stroud