When two or Three are Gathered together...
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. Again, verily I say unto you, that if two of you shall [q]agree in earth upon anything, whatsoever they shall desire, it shall be given them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. 18:19-20).
Here is a case where a true understanding of a Scripture has been made very difficult if not impossible by dividing it up so that it appears to teach two ideas instead of one. For instance: In the first proposition, "If two of you shall agree," and the other one, "where two or three are gathered together," the idea is one and the same. That is, togetherness is the same as to agree and vice versa. Spiritual oneness is intended in both cases; and the promise, "anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them" cannot be understood without the words, "there am I in the midst of them."
While there seem to be two ideas contained in these verses, there is really only one; that is, where there is oneness among a few believers, the Father and the Son are present to answer prayer. The promise, "there am I in the midst of them," is predicated on the oneness or unity of the believers, suggested by the words "agree," and "together in my name."
Oneness Makes a Dwelling Place for God
What does Jesus intend us to understand by His words, "there am I in the midst of them"? First, He intends us to understand that He is in the midst because we agree – are of "one heart and of one soul" – together in one. This is the meaning of Psalm 133: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore." Oneness makes a dwelling place for God in this lower world (Eph. 2:22). Because of this fact alone, oneness is the most important factor of all in the life and walk of the Church of Christ. Man’s breach of the oneness of his original relationship with God and his fellows was the first step away from God. Therefore in a real return to God, oneness with Himself and one another must come first in the order of importance and in the order of time, also; for only where there is unity can God be present in blessing. "There the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore."
Oneness makes heaven, division makes hell. Therefore it is written: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). But they who cause division and strife are accursed, not blessed, and must be avoided (Rom. 16:17). Those who make peace bring God in; but those who cause division shut Him out. To bring God in is the most righteous act that any man can perform. To wreck His sanctuary and drive God out is one of the most wicked things that any man or devil can do.
Recognize God’s Presence
In the second place, the Lord intends us to recognize Him in the midst of us; casting all our care upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). His purpose in being in the midst is very practical: He is there to help those who will give Him place "in the midst of them." When Jesus was on earth in physical form, those who provided a habitation for Him rendered Him a very valuable service. Other than this, the Son of man had "not where to lay His head" (Matt 8:20); and those who gave Him an abode (Luke 19:5,9; 10:42), enjoyed the benefit of all His power and blessing.
Just so, those who provide a place for Him now that He can come in spirit form also render Him a high service, and enjoy the benefit of His power, which is much greater than He had in the days of His flesh. "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23). This word of Jesus relates to this present time in between Christ’s going into heaven and His appearing the second time, when He comes for His Church. This means something more than "the gift of the Holy Ghost," which is promised to all them that believe on Him (John 7:39, Acts 2:38-39): it means the resurrected Jesus in person dwelling in an abode which is made for Him by the oneness of a few believers (John 17:21-23).
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them." This word informs us as to the reason why the Lord is in the midst of a certain two or three, but not with other twos and threes: they must be gathered together in His name, that is, on His account and not on account of self. Indeed, the very process of achieving such a condition necessitates the elimination of the self-principle. That is, for two or three individuals to become as one person requires each person to deny himself for the sake of the others: "In honor preferring one another." Each esteeming the other better than themselves (Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:2-3).
Because oneness between several persons compels the abdication of self is the reason why God is present where oneness exists. That is, it is the absence of self-rule that accounts for the presence of God. We are not intimating that the nature of self is wholly absent but that self is not in control: the name of Jesus controls all. God cannot dwell where self has control. Self is compelled to relinquish its control before "two or three are gathered together" in the name of Jesus (under His control) and oneness is created between them.
Let us not forget that the main reason why oneness draws the Holy Spirit is because in the creation of oneness, self is compelled to give up its control and get out of God’s place where it naturally loves to be. Self is in control of our spirit when every little disappointment makes us impatient. Self is in control of our body when intemperance rules our natural desires. Self is in control of our mind when conceit rather than "lowliness of mind" holds sway.
The Lord will always be found where the control of self over the life has been broken in favor of Christ and the name of Christ is recognized instead. When Jesus says, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them," He is thinking of two or three individual persons that have achieved a spirit of losing of themselves for His sake (Luke 9:23-24), thus fitting themselves to be His dwelling place. And He will be in the midst of all such little groups where His bitter rival, the fallen self in men, is being denied for His sake.
Where two or three agree or are spiritually one in each other (gathered together in the name of Jesus), the Father which is in heaven dwells in them; and the Son of God who also is in heaven comes to dwell in the midst of them. This is borne out by the words of Jesus in John 14:20-23. Only in this relationship with the Lord and one another can we understand His words: "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you. He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him…And My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him." There is no greater relationship with Christ than that in Matthew 18 and John 14. The words of Jesus concerning the Holy Ghost, "He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you"(John 16:14), can only be realized in this relationship.
Gathered in His Name
What does the Lord mean by the words, Where two or three are gathered together in His name? Here is where we are missing the mark. He means that He will be in the midst of those who are united in seeking His interests instead of their own: those who make Himself their supreme interest and not just an incidental "help" in securing what they want. That which becomes our supreme interest is our god. Our selfishness may betray us into wanting Jesus only to help us to gain something we prize more than Himself.
For instance, there are some whose supreme interest is health; their chief interest in Jesus is only in His ability to heal them. It is also possible to make salvation our chief interest and esteem Jesus only as incidental, an aid to salvation. We may make any good thing our chief interest and value Jesus mostly as the means by which it may be obtained or attained. Our supreme interest may be such good things as achieving unity, fellowship, or revival, or eternal life even, only regarding Jesus as "the way" to reach our goal.
All such endeavor is not "in His name," but in our own name, for our own sake. Only when we are loving Jesus Himself supremely may we do anything in His name. If we only wish to have Him in the midst as one who is able to "help" us to get something we want more than Himself, we shall be disappointed, because this is not acting in His name. This is the essential thing in this Scripture which we are studying. We may ask; we may be together; we may try to trust; but if all this is not "in His name," on His account, little will come of it. In the light of these things, we may understand the Lord’s words: "If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14).
Do we want to have Jesus in the midst of us so that He may the better use us for His own purposes? Or do we desire Him in the midst because it would advantage ourselves mostly? If it be the first, that would be in His name; if it be the other case, we are setting our own interests above His.
To have Jesus in the midst of us then, a few of us must agree, be gathered together in our hearts. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross (pay the price of choosing Him) daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23) wherever He may lead. Ordinarily self-occupies the place that belongs to Him, and must be made to abdicate in His favor. Humbling ourselves (1 Peter 5:5-6) and submitting ourselves to one another in the fear of God (Eph. 5:21), is the only way to get self out so that Jesus may be given place in the midst of us.