My very first job as a teacher was in a Christian school. Although I had gone to church all my life, it wasn’t my first inclination to deal with disagreements in a Biblical manner. So when one of the other teachers did something that I thought was inappropriate, belittling and insulting to me, I went to a good friend, just because I had to get it out of my system. She asked me, “Have you talked to him about it?” No, I hadn’t, because he is the one who ticked me off. She told me to follow the Matthew 18:15 principle. So, I went and looked the verse up, and then went and spoke with the other teacher. We resolved the issue, and all was well.
Yes, the guideline given in Matthew 18:15 is a good principle to follow to work out differences in your interpersonal relationships, but if you look at it in the context of the following verses, you will realize that Jesus is talking about more than just a misunderstanding between friends or colleagues. If you read all four steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-17, you will see that it must involve more serious issues. These steps need to be taken if a person’s actions will hinder the relationship between a believer and our Heavenly Father.
Earlier, in Matthew 18:10-14, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, and He says that He is not willing for any of His sheep or His children to be lost. When we get to the next paragraph, He is still not willing for any of His children to be lost, so if one has done something that might lead to that result, it cannot be overlooked. But the process is to deal with it as quietly as possible. First, you go alone and quietly tell your brother (fellow Christian of either gender) what his fault is. Now, it is entirely possible that he won’t see things the same way you do. Perhaps you will be able to persuade him of what is right, and perhaps you won’t. If you can’t, you go and find one or two more people so that a matter may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15) These one or two other people need to be objective and upstanding themselves, and not just people you can convince to take your side in a matter. After all, this should not be a personal complaint, but a serious breach of God’s principles. The point of going through the steps is not only to convince the other of his wrong, but also to confirm that you were not wrong to approach him.
If these conversations aren’t enough, you go to the church. Keep in mind, that this passage in Scripture is not an excuse to air someone’s dirty laundry in front of the entire congregation. There are some issues that never need to be shared with the entire congregation and will only cause more hurt if they are. A board or committee of the church could be entrusted to make decisions on its behalf. Remember that along with striving to be holy, Jesus wants us to love one another. If you get to the point where your erring brother refuses to listen to the church, you must treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. In fact, he has chosen to live as a Gentile or a tax collector since he has disregarded the standards that God has set. However, you are not to treat him as the Pharisees treated the Gentiles and tax collectors. You are to treat him as Jesus would have. Start fresh, and continue to try to bring him back into the fold, for your Father in heaven is not willing for any to be lost.
I belong to a book club/Bible study group made up of a dozen or so ladies ranging in age from about 35 to 75. We encourage each other, and help each other out by sharing from our wide base of experiences, as well as with practical things like painting and kitchen duties. And we laugh. A lot. These ladies have become very dear friends to me, and I look forward to and treasure our times together. It has never mattered what book we chose to read; I attend because I value their friendship.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a king known for his wisdom, laments the meaninglessness of almost everything, but in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, he promotes the benefits of companionship. Life is better with a friend or two. Labour is easier. Some tasks are just too difficult, even for a strong, independent person to do alone. If one gets hurt or into a bad situation, another is there to call for help. If they are travelling through the wilderness, as many would have in Solomon’s day, they can huddle together to stay warm. Today think of being in a stranded vehicle on an isolated highway in the winter. And, perhaps, most important of all, they can protect each other from their adversary. We do that in our group. We help each other to see how the enemy, Satan, is attacking our souls, and we stand together on God’s word, and through prayer, to fight back. Like a three-stranded cord, we are stronger together.
In the beginning, when God created each aspect of the universe, He declared it good. The first thing that He declared not good was that man was alone. (Genesis 2:18) So He created a helper suitable for him. Galatians 6:2 instructs us to bear one another’s burdens, and Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to not give up meeting together. We were made for community. George Eliot described a best friend as a “well-spring in the wilderness”, an oasis. Take time to cultivate your friendships. All other striving is meaningless without them.
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)