I was inspired to write this post from my friend Ruth.
She just posted about the stupid things people say when they’re trying to bring you comfort when you’re grieving or going through a difficult time in life. I know people are only meaning well… they are being sincere… unfortunately they are sincerely wrong. Their catch phrases are loosely based on Scripture but are taken out of context completely and therefore bring more damage than good. It is derived from a lack of understanding.
After my younger sister went through 6 traumatic miscarriages, nearly one after the other, good well-meaning Christians put their foot in their mouths when they were “consoling” her. I learned what not to say… things like the proverbial, “God needed more flowers in His garden” or the one that makes me want to slap people, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… blessed be the name of the Lord”. Ruth has listed some others that are doozies. All these phrases do is madden the person on the receiving end and confuse the world that is listening in. What kind of sick God do we serve?! I don’t know about you but my God is not schizophrenic!
I don’t want to focus on these things – Ruth does a great job on her own, read her blog. I would like to focus this post on another bunch of verses that are taken out of context. This post is going to cover one is from a sermon my hubby just did on forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-20).
First of all, why is it important to know the context or background or cultural relevance when you read a Scripture verse? So it’s not misunderstood, used and abused or “taken out of context”. It looses its meaning when we do this, we can’t just pick and choose what we want it to say. It gets watered down… I’ve heard Scripture twisted and in most cases to fit a particular behaviour or belief system based on choices made.
Did you know that the English language is one of the most nondescript languages out there? Did you know that when King James had the Bible translated in the 1600’s into English a lot of words lost their true meaning? English is colourless compared to the original Greek and Hebrew… For example, most of us Christians know that there are 5 Greek words used for “Love” (Agape, Eros, Philia, Storge, & Thelema), each have their own separate and very distinct meaning but in English… we have one. Love. Did you know this also applies to the word “Faith”? In some areas of Scripture where the translators should have used the word “Trust” they used “Faith” and vice-versa when they weren’t meant to be interchangeable because they have different meanings. When you spend some time getting to know His Word… it’s not so confusing. This is also where it helps to be in a good Word-based church!
Back to the particular verse I wanted to bring to light…
Matthew 18:15-17 deals with proper godly discipline within the church body. It talks about the way to go about dealing with a “brother” (a fellow Christian) so that unity remains in the body – bottom line. Unfortunately it’s not so easy, hence there are specific steps that need to be followed. The last step is the most extreme but it is Scriptural – the last resort for an unrepentant “Christian”. Thankfully we’ve only had to do this once in 15 years of leading a church but we have had to do it. What happens if you “let it slide” and don’t activate biblical judical authority such as in vs 17? Professing Christians never dealt with properly by the church have brought about many evils (corruption) throughout history, bringing shame to the body of Christ. It’s not fun or popular to do but it is soooo necessary!
Verses 18-20 are the Scriptures I want to dispel…
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Have you heard these quoted before in prayer? I have. I’ve heard it in every case from praying for something you want – to binding devils – to a reason not to go to a church. It’s a great Scripture and I have used it myself in the past when praying for someone (because of a lack of understanding) but it is actually referring to… in the proper context… when you read before and after… it’s surrounded on all sides… about the Christian judicial system, resulting hopefully in repentance and forgiveness. It’s talking about the authority of the local church and God standing by them to deal with the unrepentant Christian who is in sin.
Vs 18: God empowers the Church (the Christian judicial assembly) that follows these procedures to act on the authority of heaven. The unrepentant person has already left God’s way and cannot be restored without repentance. The earthly action follows the heavenly decree. By removing an unrepentant sinner from the Christian community, believers merely ratify the heavenly court’s already passed ruling (judgment). What is already done in heaven is now done on earth. “Bind” and “loose” refer to the judicial authority of gathered Christians to decide cases on the basis of God’s law. The Bible does support Christians exercising their authority to cast out real demons but the only “devils” they are referring to in this particular passage… are fully human ones and they are being cast out of the church because of their unrepentant heart (they choose to be separated).
Vs 19: Given the context, the 2 or 3 gathered for prayer in verses 19 & 20 must be the witnesses mentioned back in verse 16 – the mature believers brought in to settle the dispute / disagreement / offense and to help bring reconciliation to the matter so that there is unity in the body. Here in verse 19 they are to be the first to pray (as opposed to in Deut 17:6-7 when witnesses were called upon to be the first to cast stones…). In the context of forgiveness, the prayer may represent a prayer for ultimate restoration for that is God’s bottom line for life in general. Excommunication even in its worst form was normally reversible if repentance took place.
Vs 20: An ancient Jewish saying promised God’s presence for even 2 or 3 gathered to study His law (His Word). Here Jesus Himself fills the role of the Shekinah (God’s presence). Jesus is “God with us”. Again in context… it’s like God saying, “When there are 2 or 3 of you gathered together to take care of these matters, I’m there with you – backing you up”. God is reaffirming the Church that they have HIS authority to carry out His judicial system while here on earth, that we should consider Him as present in the midst of this.
Verses 21-34… Jesus is still talking about forgiveness…
There is a huge responsibility upon our shoulders to keep unity in the body of believers but realize that we have been given all the authority of heaven, God and Jesus to do so – for UNITY – but there is a proper biblical pattern – God is a god of order – a single step cannot be sidelined or skipped. It’s not to be taken lightly or misused.
When you understand the context… all sorts of doors are opened!