Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Study Skill 02: Context & Connections

A short series of posts about how we read the Bible

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” Matt 18v20.

Is this a mandate for quiet times? Is this a message to tell you to go and pray with those 1-2 friends you've not seen for a while... Context is key! Politicians don't like to be taken out of context – neither does God.

It is part of a section from v15-20, and this within a wider context in chapter 18 about relationships between God's people.

V15 – If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
V16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
V17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
V18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
V19 Again I say to you, if two or three of you agree on earth about anything they ask,
if will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
V20 For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there I am among them.

1.See that v20 begins “FOR”. This means it is evidence for something that has come before it.

2.So, we look at v19. This is a statement. It begins Again... so in fact it is a restatement.

3.So, we look at v18. This is a statement.

4.This means we have a statement twice in v18-19, and the reason for it in v20.

5.It is also in the context of v15-17. They are a series of “If...Then” clauses. They concern how to respond when someone sins against you. First go alone to confront the sinner, then with one or two others (i.e. 2-3 people go), and tell the church... and finally exclude the person.... It is a series that leads to greater and greater confrontation and finally in v17 to the exclusion of the sinner... Jesus we know welcomed Tax Collectors and Gentiles – but to those Jesus was teaching those words were synonymous for someone being an outsider.

6.Note that the group of two or three people are witnesses used to confront a sinner – not just any group of two people. Witnesses who have a decision to make about confronting and ultimately disciplining someone who has sinned and is not repenting.

7.V18-19 tell us that they have the power to make a decision of heavenly proportions.
Why? Because, according to v20, God is among them.

8.So – is it about prayer triplets? No – it is about church discipline being authoritative.

9.Is it true that God is with two or three Christians who are at prayer? Yes – in fact even with one Christian. BUT, this is not what Matthew 18v20 is about. It is not what God says here – however nice it sounds. A verse only means what it means in context.

10.Notice also the importance of connections or linking words to us finding the meaning... a series of “if...then” statements... a double statement of truth, and a reason for this being the case. Look out for
“X therefore/so Y”, //
or “X because of/for Y”,
or “X then, but, now Y”
(More literal translations help us to see these connections)