On being gathered together “In His Name”

In Matthew 18 there’s this real­ly neat sec­tion in vers­es 15–19 where Jesus is teach­ing his dis­ci­ples and teach­ing about con­flict res­o­lu­tion with­in the Church. It’s a very cor­po­rate-mind­ed teach­ing, and Jesus talks some about the author­i­ty and pow­er that the Church has. He says in clos­ing in verse 19:

For where two or three have gath­ered togeth­er in My name, I am there in their midst.”

I want­ed to take some time to talk about this verse in par­tic­u­lar, as it’s one of those much-abused vers­es. I have read about and heard many peo­ple claim­ing this promise, “because we are here togeth­er in His name, He is here with us!”

The prob­lem with that is that most of the time those gath­er­ings of peo­ple claim­ing this promise lack the pow­er and fruit which the Church in Acts had. It’s all well and good for us to call our own church­es pow­er­ful and fruit­ful, but we should real­ly com­pare them to the stan­dard set in the scrip­tures, and not by our own reli­gious tra­di­tions. And set against the exam­ple of the ear­ly Church, those claims are emp­ty, and it appears that Jesus isn’t actu­al­ly in their midst.

The ear­ly Church was so obvi­ous­ly pow­er­ful that there was no hid­ing it. We have these accounts of what it looked like:

So then, those who had received his word were bap­tized; and that day there were added about three thou­sand souls. They were con­tin­u­al­ly devot­ing them­selves to the apos­tles’ teach­ing and to fel­low­ship, to the break­ing of bread and to prayer.

Every­one kept feel­ing a sense of awe; and many won­ders and signs were tak­ing place through the apos­tles. And all those who had believed were togeth­er and had all things in com­mon; and they began sell­ing their prop­er­ty and pos­ses­sions and were shar­ing them with all, as any­one might have need. Day by day con­tin­u­ing with one mind in the tem­ple, and break­ing bread from house to house, they were tak­ing their meals togeth­er with glad­ness and sin­cer­i­ty of heart, prais­ing God and hav­ing favor with all the peo­ple. And the Lord was adding to their num­ber day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 2:41–47


And the con­gre­ga­tion of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that any­thing belong­ing to him was his own, but all things were com­mon prop­er­ty to them. And with great pow­er the apos­tles were giv­ing tes­ti­mo­ny to the res­ur­rec­tion of the Lord Jesus, and abun­dant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy per­son among them, for all who were own­ers of land or hous­es would sell them and bring the pro­ceeds of the sales and lay them at the apos­tles’ feet, and they would be dis­trib­uted to each as any had need.”

Acts 4:32–35

It’s pret­ty hard to find a church that match­es those descriptions.

The main ques­tion this verse brings up for me is, “If this is a true promise, then why aren’t there more tru­ly vibrant expres­sions of Christ being in the midst of a gath­ered people?”

Now, I don’t think the prob­lem is that it’s not a true promise, I think the prob­lem is in what we think “gath­ered togeth­er in My name” means.

I believe that it basi­cal­ly means, “rep­re­sent­ing Me”.

But we know that, right? Well, yes, we’d say it means to rep­re­sent Christ, but the real­i­ty of that rep­re­sen­ta­tion is where things are skewed. There was an under­stand­ing of what the “In My name”—that representation—meant to the Jew­ish peo­ple which is, for the most part, lost today.

I would update that def­i­n­i­tion to be, “a part of Me”.

Here’s an anal­o­gy a friend of mine used to explain this:

If you want­ed to go by my name, you could. You could call your­self David Dick­er­son, and prob­a­bly con­vince at least the new peo­ple you met that it real­ly was your name. But you wouldn’t be able to reap the ben­e­fits of actu­al­ly bear­ing my name—you couldn’t cash my checks, for instance, or be mar­ried to my wife and father to my kids.

The prob­lem you’d have with call­ing your­self by my name is that you’re not me.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the only way for us to “be in His name” is to actu­al­ly be a part of Him–to be Him. It’s not as sim­ple as using Jesus’ name as some sort of incan­ta­tion, where we get togeth­er and say, “We’re here for Jesus! And He’s here with us!” The term “In My name” has more to do with a state of being than with some­thing we do. It’s not about ’set­ting the stage’. It’s about being a part of the Fam­i­ly and House­hold of God, a part of Him.

So, how does that hap­pen? What gives us the right to be a part of him?

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become chil­dren of God, even to those who believe in His name,”

John 1:13

It looks to me that it’s the receiv­ing Him that is key. But, what does that mean? How do we tru­ly receive Him?

Lay aside all filth­i­ness and over­flow of evil and humbly receive the implant­ed word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word and not mere­ly hear­ers, deceiv­ing yourselves.”

James 1:21–22

We have to be doers. We receive ful­ly through obe­di­ence. Specif­i­cal­ly, obe­di­ence to the Word of God. As 1 John 2:4 says:

The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His com­mand­ments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Jesus (the liv­ing Word of God) has giv­en us some pret­ty rad­i­cal def­i­n­i­tions and com­mands about what it takes to be His dis­ci­ple. See Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 9, and Luke 14. He has called us us to give up every­thing and fol­low him.

There’s a good rea­son he calls us to lose our lives; He knows that in order for us to be a part of Him, it’s going to take us being filled with His life and Spir­it. We can’t be filled if we’re already full of our­selves. It’s that giv­ing up of every­thing which emp­ties us of our life, and sets us free to be filled with His life, earn­ing the right to be tru­ly called a part of Him.

Ah, but there’s the rub.

The main issue is whether peo­ple want God enough that they’re will­ing to give up their own lives for Him. The rea­son you don’t see demon­stra­tions of the Life of God which match the exam­ple of the ear­ly Church much, if at all, is because most peo­ple frankly just aren’t inter­est­ed in giv­ing up their lives when it gets right down to it.

If you want to be a part of that life, and to be tru­ly gath­ered in His name, you need to come to terms with the fact that the Gospel is a life for a life. And you’ve got to find peo­ple who have also come to terms with that, who are ready to give every­thing up, and who want to be part of that “two or three gath­ered togeth­er in My Name”.

There’s not much of a for­mu­la for mak­ing it work, because the “mak­ing it work” is not up to us, but up to God. But if you do find some­one like that, rejoice! You are wit­ness­ing a part of His work­ing, because He does the draw­ing. Just remem­ber that,

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watch­man keeps awake in vain.

Psalm 127:1

We need to make a dwelling place for God inside our hearts, and he will come. We don’t need pro­grams and meth­ods for build­ing His Church; we need Him to come and live with us and to take up that work Him­self. It’s up to Him to build His House, and it’s up to Him to guard it as well.


  1. Despite every­thing I have been taught in the past con­cern­ing this top­ic and the vers­es men­tioned, I cant help but agree. I dont know why but after read­ing this, the sto­ry of the rich young ruler makes more sense to me now. Thanks for the post.

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