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What does the phrase 'where two or three are gathered' mean in Matthew 18:20?

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Most times, when we hear the phrase "where two or three are gathered," it's being used to affirm a small gathering of believers. For example, someone might say something like, "Even though we are small in numbers, God will hear our prayer and be with us." This interpretation of the verse, however, leaves out an important factor—what about the people who pray alone? Is God not there unless there are at least two or three gathered? Certainly not! We must look at the surrounding passage to know the true context of this phrase and what it really means.

This verse falls at the end of a paragraph of verses on how to handle a personal offense with a believer that then escalates to discipline within the context of the church (Matthew 18:15–20). The passage starts by saying: "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. 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. 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" (Matthew 18:15–17). These verses show the process for godly confrontation of a fellow believer who has sinned against you.

The passage goes on to say: "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. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:18–20). Jesus affirms that He will be present in the midst of a healthy confrontation. The goal of confrontation about sin is to come to a place of repentance. So, therefore, the appropriate context for "where two or three are gathered" is through the lens of church discipline and bringing a fellow believer trapped in sin back on track.

This passage discusses needing to take a couple others along with you when you make an accusation after a personal approach has failed. In Old Testament law, accusation from one person wasn't enough to invoke any progress in a criminal case, but two or three witnesses made it valid (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15). What we see in Matthew 18 is that, within the church, the same rule should be followed when addressing the sin of someone in the church.

Using this as a guideline, when the believer who is in sin is approached first alone and then by "two or three witnesses" and still does not choose to repent, then the matter gets escalated to the church. In modern times, it's not common to address sin in fellow believers, because it's not socially acceptable to "judge" others, but, as believers, we are called to keep each other accountable for righteous living.

Jesus didn't come to condemn, but to save (John 3:16–18). Similarly, godly confrontation is not to be done from an attitude of pride or anger, but from gentleness and love. The end goal is not guilt but repentance and restoration. Galatians 6:1–2 says: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." None of us is exempt from being tempted and falling into sin. When we must confront someone, we should do so with the same care and grace we would like to be shown if roles were reversed. When we do take the plunge and do confrontation God's way, we can be confident that Christ will be with us—this is what Matthew 18:20 is all about.


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