It’s the beginning of the school year. The clouds above the northwest have swelled and begun pouring rain — in large and small amounts — on the streets and sidewalks of my little corner of the city. Coffee pots are being dusted off, syllabi handed out, and pillows less frequented… September has come.
I remember when school meant long rides on the crickety bus and the hustle and bustle of malls filled with teenagers eagerly awaiting their chance to walk into the same halls with a new identity — transformed by their summer experiences, relationships, and newly infused fashionable wardrobes. I remember getting ready… buying textbooks, school bags, pens, locker decorations, and such. And then sitting in class trying to stay awake.
…Not this year.
I love my classes. For the past two years I have had the incredible opportunity to study, well, God. : ) From Greek language to counseling, theology to global issues, and Genesis to Revelation the whole idea of coming to seminary has been to get to know God: to study the Bible, spend time with God in prayer, and to let that transform my life from the inside out.
I was sitting in class yesterday morning thinking about the heartbreak in America, the bitterness toward God that so many hold when he has failed to come through for them — or it appears that way. My professor was talking about an often quoted, but misunderstood, verse (Matthew 18:19-20):
“…if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
On its own it sounds a lot like God is promising that when two people agree on something and come to him in prayer about it that He will give them whatever they ask. It’s a formula to get our wildest prayers answered – or so it may appear at first glance. So we grab a buddie and pray earnestly for a job, spouse, medical healing, guidance on an issue or the like… and if God doesn’t grant our request we shake our fists at Him and point our fingers bitterly to this verse. We feel entitled to an answer, an answered PROMISE to be precise, but the problem is that we misunderstood the verse. We took it out of context.
The verse, which starts with “Again I say to you”, is part of a larger unit of thought that stretches back to the beginning of chapter 18. My professor continued speaking: the main idea is that when Christians live in sin, fellow Christians should seek to restore them to fellowship. This passage is about relationships within the church, about acting with humility toward one another, and not causing harm. Oh, that we would take these words to heart and not just skim over them!
When a Christian does sin (by doing something contrary to what God says is right), as the church we should reach out in love and humility in every effort to restore them into relationship and fellowship. The context surrounding the description of how this should be done includes a strong emphasis on humility (the opposite of pride), and love. Rather than condemning and “scarlet lettering” someone, we are to approach the person with an attitude like a shepard going after a single sheep that’s wandered off. The shepard’s desire is — most likely– not to beat the sheep, but to bring it back to the flock and to safety. When this is done according to the will of Christ and in real agreement in prayer, it is powerful and God is a part of it.
As I sat and listened to my professor explore this passage, I saw the way its segments were woven together as a unit. I continue to be amazed at the interconnectedness and depth of the Scriptures. While the Bible clearly states blatant truths, there is much more to be learned by peeling back its layers and examining the frameworks within those truths have been presented.
….Here is my hope and my point
May we not hold grudges against God for breaking what we have incorrectly deemed a promise. Let us never remove anyone’s words, especially God’s, from the context in which they are said. God is perfect, always has been, and He loves you and me. Next time you see a one verse bumper sticker, t-shirt, bookmark, or bulletin board I’d encourage us all to open our Bibles and find where it’s nestled. I pray you will be blessed by the experience, and I am confident you will find that God loves you and His promises remain unbroken. : )