Today’s Reading: Matthew 18
When I was working toward my undergrad degree in corporate finance, the students would say cash is king. When I was doing my graduate work in theology, the students would say context is king.
So many Bible verses get their punch from context, not from a denominational bent. One of those punchy passages is in Matthew 18. I couldn’t tell you how many prayer meetings I have attended where not many people showed up and the pastor said, “All I know is that Jesus said where two or three are gathered together there I am in that place.”
I have this sneaky suspicion that Jesus was not giving us a sentence we can use when we have bad attendance—where we just quote Matthew 18:20, and everyone is content and off the hook.
Let’s be honest, the Bible is full of people who met God by themselves and not with two or three people.
But context is king. This verse ends Jesus’ huge thought on fixing a broken relationship. Listen to the verses connected with it:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church . . . For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:15-17, 20)
Two important thoughts:
1. It’s interesting that Jesus used the word church only twice in the entire Bible. One was in the chapter before when He said the gates of hell can’t prevail against His church. And second, when dealing with broken relationships. Devils and broken relationships . . . think about that—two of the church’s biggest enemies.
2. In the powerful context of two or three being gathered, I believe Jesus was saying more than encouraging us when there’s bad attendance. He was saying, “When you choose to fix a relationship in My house, and do it the right way, I want you to know that when you get the parties in the room, My presence plans on being there.” What an incredible promise.
The Bible reminds us over and over that we not only need God in our lives, we need people to be part of our lives as well. God wired us that way and designed life in such a way that life works better with people rather than in isolation. Relational isolation is especially dangerous. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we give up on community.
To be certain, important and vital relationships, though they bring joy to our lives, can also have the potential of bringing pain and conflict. Conflict in and of itself is not bad, but unresolved conflict is. Unresolved conflict creates a toxic environment.
I think that’s why Peter responds to Jesus’ words with this question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (verse 21).
Jesus didn’t let him off the hook. He told him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (verse 22).
Remember this math equation that Jesus brought up, seventy times seven?
It has to do with forgiveness. It’s connected to how often should I forgive my brother. Sounds like everyone has an account of 490 offenses with each other. I think C. S. Lewis gave the best insight on this idea: “We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offenses but for one offense.”
To forgive for the moment is not difficult. But to go on forgiving, to forgive the same offense again every time it recurs to the memory—there’s the real tussle.
We forgive . . . and a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offense, and we discover the old resentment blazing away again. And we forgive again.
Wow, what an insight! Seventy times seven is not forgiving 490 different offenses but forgiving one offense 490 times. Forgiving over and over when our mind is plagued.
When the two or three whom Jesus is talking about try to work out an issue between them, Jesus says in essence, “Plan on Me being in attendance, because this is really important.” Jesus is not only committed to your relationship with Him, He is committed to healthy relationships with the others who are in your life, even if it takes 490 times to get it right and resolved inside and out.