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.”
“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.”
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,”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
This makes ervteyhing so completely painless.