It is a verse in which we take much comfort – but do we really understand it – in context? Jesus once said:
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).
The passage is often applied to a regular church assembly, especially when a very small number is present. A well-meaning brother may say: “Let’s not be discouraged; after all, the Lord said, ‘If only two or three are gathered together, I’ll be with you.’” As sincere as the statement is, and, as true as that sentiment is, that is not the significance of the verse in its context.
Christ had raised the issue of one brother committing a personal sin against another. The wronged disciple was told to seek out the offender – with the two of them alone being present; there, he could register his grievance. If the guilty party refused to listen, a second visit was to be made, this time with witnesses – to judge the demeanor of the sinful brother. If all of these together could not prevail upon the offender to repent of his sin, the matter was to be laid before the church as a whole.
If the influence of the entire church could not persuade the transgressor to correct his wrong, he was to be treated as a “Gentile and a publican.” In that society, this meant – sever social interaction with him (18:15-17).
In such a serious matter, Christians must be certain they are pursuing the discipline correctly. Therefore, the things to be “bound” upon earth (in the disciplinary procedure), must be so enacted as to be in harmony with what has already been bound in heaven (this is the force of the Greek grammar).
Accordingly, if a brother is convicted of impenitent, sinful behavior, with such verified by multiple witnesses, God will authenticate the disciplinary process. The Lord promises that in the assembly that enacts the ultimate penalty, he will be present, in effect validating the procedure!
Here, then, is the stunning point. When one is disfellowshipped by a faithful church, he also is disfellowshipped by the Lord Jesus Christ himself! Fathom that. Note these comments by R.C.H. Lenski.
“Since he [Jesus] is thus in the assembly of the church or present when two or three are convicting a brother of sin, it is he himself who acts with this church and its members when they carry out his Word by invoking also his presence and his help” (Commentary on Matthew, p. 707; emp. WJ).
It is a terribly serious thing to sin so flagrantly and impenitently that church discipline becomes necessary. It is a sobering thing to reflect upon the fact that even the Savior will withdraw his fellowship from the obstinate rebel who cannot be approached, and upon whom no amount of compassion or persuasion prevails.
It is equally grave when church members will support the transgressor, rather than standing with the church as a whole. In so doing, such misguided members stand aloof from the Savior himself. This appears to have been the case at Corinth where apparently only a “majority” supported Paul’s commands regarding the disfellowship of the fornicator (1 Cor. 5:1ff; cf. 2 Cor. 2:6 – NASB).
In contrast, it is heartwarming when Christians have the courage to do the righteous and loving thing on behalf of the apostate child of God.