Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
(Matthew 18:19 – ESV)
(Matthew 18:19 – ESV)
I love praying, and I have taught on prayer and preached on prayer many times and for many years. It is one of my favorite subjects and one of my favorite things to do. Whether it is by myself or with others, it is something I am wholeheartedly committed to, without reserve. I firmly believe in the power of prayer, but of course that power needs to be defined biblically.
Many who want to make more of the power of prayer than they ought will claim that this verse teaches something it does not. They will say that if two or more Christians agree in prayer about any specific issue, God will accomplish the prayer. Is that what this verse teaches?
It is good to agree with other believers in prayer for God’s will, certainly this is true. But if this idea about the “prayer of agreement” was true, why then doesn’t God answer all our corporate prayers in accordance with our desires? It is obvious then that there are qualifications to this idea, at best, and it might not even be biblical, so we need to think about it while looking to the actual text.
It isn’t as if there are three votes to be cast, and if you and your prayer partner agree that you want things done one way, then God, His will notwithstanding, has to observe the majority rule. Now you may balk and try and explain the position away as not actually being like that, but it really does boil down to that, doesn’t it? Does your agreement automatically make God to be in agreement? Of course not, we would all say, so let’s look a little closer at this idea, shall we? Let’s not just agree to disagree, but let’s take a look at the text, and see if we can clear up our disagreement by clearly seeing what the text does or does not teach. Agreed?
There can be a real problem with certain ideas drawn from “proof texts”. While they might sound good, and be based on scripture, and in many instances the single verse provided appears to confirm the teaching, on closer examination we see that the verse has been pulled out of the context in which it was given and is claimed to say what it does not. Oh, this particular verse does “say” what it “says” but it does not clearly teach what it simply says.
We cannot simply use “verses in a vacuum”, in other words, we cannot pull them out of their context, and make them say what we want them to mean, thereby becoming “verse ventriloquists”. This is what the kingdom of the cults do all the time; they pour their own meaning into the words. Although we have all had our difficulties with misinterpreting texts and teachings, when we can by God’s grace find our way to the truth, we need to take it as it is.
When looking at texts, we can understand them to apply to Christians universally, such as Matthew 28:19-20 (go therefore and teach all nations), or to someone or something specifically, such as Matthew 10:5-6 (do not go to anyone but the Jews, a command for the disciples only and for that particular time period only, overruled by the Great Commission), or principally, such as Philippians 2:3-4 (Paul was speaking to a particular church but the principle of Christlike behavior applies to us) or not at all, as with 2 Timothy 4:13 (Paul tells Timothy to bring his papers, which we are obviously not to do). Texts meant specifically may also apply principally, so sometimes texts that aren’t teaching on a particular subject may still give us a principle to follow and apply to other matters.
Matthew 18:19 is part of a group of 6 verses, beginning with Matthew 18:15 and ending with Matthew 18:20. This section of scripture is about church discipline, and not specifically about prayer at all. The asking part is about the offended parties going to the leadership as part of the process of that discipline. Church members are asking church leaders to do something, in accordance with standard protocol. So this verse, in the asking part, is not about people asking God, but people asking people.
However, does the verse apply in principle? What about the binding and loosing aspect from verse 18? What about the Father doing something from heaven?
This verse does apply in principle, but not with respect to prayer. This was Christ telling the disciples that the Heavenly Father would ratify the decision of the church leaders. This wasn’t about giving church leaders or “prayer agree-ers” unlimited authority, it was Jesus telling us, in principle, that when proper disciplinary procedures are followed in the church, the leaders have the right to deny fellowship to the person who won’t repent of their sin that they committed against another believer. The binding and loosing has to do with the disciplinary decisions being made; God vests a certain authority to the church.
This is why other passages dealing with the handling of disputes and handing out discipline in a Christian manner, such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 are so important, and why church membership, once again, is seen to be an essential for the New Testament believer, not an optional ideal. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is applying what Jesus was teaching here. If you are not part of a local assembly, you are undermining part of the foundation for your Christian life. You need to be a vital part of a local fellowship of believers. This is not just about attending this or that church once in a while, or moving from church to church, that would escape this scenario and all like it, and now YOU KNOW IT.
However, most people don’t want to submit themselves to God’s people. They don't have to worry about failing a test they don't have to take. Many will never submit to discipline, either from the church, or in some degree to the scriptures themselves. They never give up the right to be the final arbiter, and this is the glaring problem in many so-called Christians. The gospel truth is that submitting to God means that we also have to submit to one another.
Now realize that this passage isn’t about handing out punishment without any procedure; this is a very specific plan of action for grieved parties. It is not a decision in relation to the salvation of the sinning Christian, but only in relation to their association with the fellowship. The agreement part is in relation to the process employed in verses 15 through 17 that results in the decision to expel the sinning person from the fellowship.
As a matter of prayer this text does not apply at all. It isn’t about a universal prayer power, it does not specifically deal with prayer, and it does not apply in principle either. It is a good and wonderful thing for believers to dwell in unity, and to pray together in God’s will with faith. However, with regards to how it is taught and understood in some circles, I do not agree with the prayer of agreement, because the bible does not teach it, especially from this verse.