@Gorooble from Twitter asked the question; “How do you take Matthew 18:19 in context?” and went on and asked; “Why don’t pairs of Christians go into hospitals, pray, heal everybody?”
Great questions from @Gorooble and I’ll even up the ante by asking about Matthew 18:19; “Why don’t pairs of Christians get together around the world and pray and stop all murders, rape, stealing, lying, etc.?
Well, in order to know what we are talking about, here is the verse in question:
Christ Jesus is speaking:
“Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19
Definitions of the word, context:
CONTEXT 1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning (Merriam-Webster.com)
con·text (kŏn′tĕkst′) n. 1. The part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning. (thefreedictionary.com)
Reading in Context
A Bible verse taken as it is alone (as most atheists take all the verses of the Bible) doesn’t always have within itself its context. Here are a few verses which are self-contained, meaning that alone they need no other verse to support their context and meaning.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Luke 6:27
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
“But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Each of the verses above are self-contained and don’t need other verses to support their context (however the other verses support and expand upon their context and should not be neglected).
Answering @Gorooble’s Questions
Alone it seems as though Christ Jesus is saying in Matthew 18:19 that whatever two followers of Him agree about and pray for, God will make it happen. However as noted above, not all verses in the Bible (or any book for that matter) can be taken as it is alone. Matthew 18:19 is one of those verses which isn’t a “standalone” verse. Matthew 18:19 needs to be at minimum put in the context of the verses around it to understand what Christ Jesus is saying.
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound14 in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:15-20
At the very least Matthew 18:19 must be taken in the context of God’s will being revealed by the Spirit from at least the verse right before it (Matthew 18:18).
Christ Jesus is speaking:
“I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18
Those who believe and trust in Christ Jesus are only promised answers under certain spiritual circumstances. The worst thing that could happen to most modern believers is that God answer their selfish, materialistic prayers.
More qualification of what context Christ Jesus is placing Matthew 18:19 in is given by Christ Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17.
Christ Jesus is speaking:
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever to you.” Matthew 18:15-17
The Answer to @Gorooble’s Questions
In context verse Matthew 18:19 is part of a paragraph in which Christ Jesus is informing those who believe in and follow Him about church discipline. These verses do not assert human’s initiative in spiritual matters, but God’s will being fulfilled on earth by the Spirit’s guidance of His people (cf. Matthew 16:19-20; John. 20:23). Church discipline should always be redemptive (cf. Galatians 6:1-10), following God’s dealing with believers.
The answer to @Gorooble’s second question “Why don’t pairs of Christians go into hospitals, pray, heal everybody?” and what I added, “and stop all murders, rape, stealing, lying, etc.?” I’ll let Christ Jesus answer:
‘Christ Jesus speaking; “I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. A time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
“Ah! ” His disciples said. “Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God.”
Jesus responded to them, “Do you now believe? Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”’
Everyone can learn a lot when reading books (especially from the Bible) when read in context. I suggest that you read, read what you are reading accordingly in context.
Remember, it is your choice to make and no one will force you to do so.
Why not repent of your sin and accept Christ Jesus as your Savior today?