A friend and I are leading a group at church called Gathering – the point is to gather together and just share how life is going, spend some time in worship and prayer, but most of all encourage one another by sharing how we have seen God moving in our lives. For the last few weeks we have also taken turns preparing a devo to get people’s brains going, but then our gathering was turning into more of a Bible study than time of sharing. Isn’t it funny how easy it is to slip into a default mode or go on auto-pilot: “we’re meeting in a church, so we should talk about the Bible!” Not that scripture isn’t foundational to our lives as Christians, but I don’t think an in-depth study is necessary to validate every time we get together.
Well, with that said, I was responsible for planning the devo last week and wanted to look at the text where Jesus says, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
That passage is Matthew 18, and the specific verse (20) comes after instructions for resolving conflicts between Christians. Awkward, since I was just looking for feel-good general niceness so we could talk about how great it is to gather in Jesus name. Instead I was stuck with taking the verse out of context (boo) or leading a study on conflict resolution.
But then I looked even further back to the chapter as a whole and realized Jesus was talking about something too important to just gloss over with warm, fuzzy feelings! He was teaching the disciples that how we act shapes our community and giving them instructions for the kind of community that brings God’s kingdom to life here on Earth.
Here’s how I see it:
COMMUNITY: MATTHEW 18
We must be humble to be great in God’s kingdom
We must receive each other
We must protect each other
Give no allowance to sin – do not tempt and do not excuse
No one is insignificant
Work to reconcile when possible
For in unity there is power!
After this section Jesus tells a parable about a servant who is forgiven an incredible debt by the king, but he goes home and demands repayment of some chump change he lent his own servant. I think this really sets the tone for how we should relate to each other as Christians – having received incomprehensible depths of grace, we can never forgive others MORE than God has forgiven us. So we must never be stingy giving grace to others. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation, but it often does, and as Christians we are called to sacrificially bear with one another. This passage contains one of Jesus’ crazier statements (verse 8), which is that if your hand causes you to sin you should cut it off. He does not, however, say that if your neighbour sins to cut off his hand or gouge out her eyes. That would be even crazier.
If we are to co-exist as broken people under construction in Jesus, we must live in the tension of expecting the absolute best of ourselves and accepting others who are imperfect as we are. When we manage to do that with God’s help, there are just incredible promises for us.