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Matthew 18:19 Where two or three are gathered…

The purpose of this blog is to look closely at individual Bible verses or short passages of scripture, but those verses should never be considered outside of the message of the entire Bible nor outside of their immediate context. One verse that is frequently taken out of context is Matthew 18:19. Many people believe that if two or more are together in the same room praying for the same thing, that they will get the answer they desire. This verse, however, is sandwiched between instruction on how to restore a relationship with a fellow believer (Matthew 18:15-18) and how often we should forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22) The agreement referred to in Matthew 18:19-20 is in the context of church discipline.

If two on earth agree about what measures are necessary in the way of church discipline, it is likely because they have both already sought God’s guidance in the matter. Because they are praying for God’s will, and because they agree, God is there with them. Therefore, whatever they decide to do, shall be done. This presumes that they have already been following God’s steps for reconciliation: private confrontation, the testimony of two or three witnesses, the decision of the church. It is only as a last resort that anyone should be asked to leave the congregation. (Matthew 18:15-18)

That is not to say that agreement in prayer is not a good principle. By praying together, we can encourage each other and hold each other accountable to praying according to the will of God. Hebrews 10:24-25 urges us to spur one another on, and to not abandon meeting together, because--we learn from Proverbs 27:17--as iron sharpens iron, one friend sharpens another. We help each other, and we are kept from feeling like we are facing the trials of life alone when we meet together to pray.

There are, however, other passages in the Bible where we are instructed, or shown the example, to pray alone. Just before Jesus gave the disciples a model for praying that we now know as the Lord’s prayer, (Matthew 6:9-13) He told them that they should pray alone and in secret to avoid being like the hypocrites who prayed publicly so that they would look pious. (Matthew 6:5-8) In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left His disciples Peter, James and John and went off by Himself to pray. His most important instruction to them was not about how to pray, but to in fact keep praying and not fall asleep. (Mark 14:32-42) He wanted them to focus on communicating with God rather than giving in to their own physical desires. If our heart is focused on prayer, then we will pray without ceasing, (I Thessalonians 5:17) whether we are alone or with others.

Whatever we pray needs to be in keeping with all scripture that teaches us about prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13, I John 5:14-15, James 1:6-8, Hebrews 10:22) God is not obligated to give us whatever we want just because we get someone else to agree with us, but He does listen to and answer the prayers of His people whether they pray in groups or alone. We are encouraged to take all of our cares to Him. (Philippians 4:6)