By John C. Carpenter
Jesus Christ said, Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven (Mat 18:19). Does this verse really mean that if two or more believers will "agree" with each other about "anything that they shall ask," God the Father will give them whatsoever they ask for? Is this doctrinal approach scriptural? I don't believe so. Let's examine some of the issues regarding this verse.
The context of these verses begins when Jesus' disciples asked Him, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mat 18:1)? The Lord made it clear that the humble individual who will submit to Him is the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus responded, Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mat 18:4). Christ clarified that when we humble ourselves, we are "converted" and "become as little children." He said,Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mat 18:3). Becoming little children does not refer to our ages. It refers to our humility. The word "little" in this verse means "an infant, a half-grown boy or girl, an immature Christian." The word "humble" is the Greek word "tapeinoo" which means "to depress, humiliate, abase, bring low." Believers are depressed [not emotionally, but in our heart and spirit], humiliated, and brought low before Christ and men. Did not God explain this same concept saying, The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken [burst, crushed, destroyed] heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite [crushed, contrite, destroyed] spirit (Psa 34:18), and to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Isa 66:2). God elsewhere said, Blessed are the poor [crouching, cringing] in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:3). I believe this broken heart and contrite spirit also represents smallness before God and man. In the parallel account by Luke, the Lord said Whosoever shall receive this [converted, humbled] child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least [less, little, small] among you all, the same shall be great (Luke 9:48). In other words, we must come to the realization that we as spiritual children are not fully mature, that we are not all knowing and all powerful, and that we are as dependent upon Christ for salvation and eternal life as children are upon their natural mothers and fathers for survival and temporal life. I believe this change from arrogance to humility is what takes place at conversion. We are "converted" when we humble ourselves as little children, not when we become believers in Christ. However, our conversion then allows us to believe in and submit to Christ. The same concept applies when the "spirit" of a horse is "broken," and the horse no longer is rebellious and performs his or her own will, but now submits completely to the guidance and will of its rider and owner. In our relationship with God, we are converted from arrogance, rebellion and rejection of God to humility, submission and acceptance of God. It is this conversion that allows Christ to save us from the Father's wrath. The Lord not only said that unless we were converted to the humility of little children we would not enter the kingdom of heaven, but He also then began a discourse as to how important this humility is. Christ said, But whoso shall offend [trip up, entice to sin, commit apostasy, or commit acts that displease the heavenly Father] one of these little ones which [have converted from arrogance to humility and as a result] believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Mat 18:6-7). Christ clarified that humble individuals are so important to Him that anyone who entices an individual who has humbled him or herself before God to trip up spiritually or sin, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the sea. Christ specifically says "woe unto" those that offend these humbled individuals. "Woe" means that anyone who offends should, or will, feel extremely grieved. This is a very serious threat by the Lord, and we should remember this threat whenever we even come close to "offending" a believer.
The Lord not only told the consequences of offending an humble individual, but He also explained the reward of accepting and treating favorably one of these humbled individuals. He said, "whosoever shall receive [receive, accept] one such little child [humbled individual] in my name receiveth[accepts] me" (Mat 18:5). Christ considers that He personally is being received and accepted when we accept an humbled believer. Christ explains in detail how important it is that we believers not offend others, particularly other believers. He said, Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire (Mat 18:8-9). The Lord specifically says that we are better off cutting off our own hand or foot than to allow that hand or foot [or any member] to offend a believer, and that if our own eye offends us or others, we should pluck it out and cast it from us. In fact, the Lord clarifies that offending can cause us to be cast into "everlasting fire" or "hell fire," rather than "into life." Christ then gives another stern warning saying, Take heed that ye despise [think against, disesteem] not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost (Mat 18:10-11). In these verses, Christ not only warns us not to criticize and reject believers that have humbled themselves before Him, but clarifies that we are to esteem these individuals. He adds that "their angels" are watching over them, are secretly aware of how these little ones are treated, and will keep the Father informed when these little ones that believe in Him are offended. God is not only omniscient, or all knowing, but the angels of the converted also keep Him informed. Beloved, beware of offending others, particularly believers.
The Lord then clarified why humble believers were so important. Christ said, For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost (Mat 18:11), and Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little [humbled, converted] ones should perish (Mat 18:14). Individuals that have become God's little children by humbling themselves are important to Christ and His Father because (1) it is God the Father's will that not one of these humbled believers be lost, and (2) saving them was why God the Father sent the Son of Man to come to earth and be crucified. Jesus in essence was saying, "I came to save that which was lost, this was My calling and purpose, this was why my Father sent me." Jesus has made it clear in Scriptures that His Father had sent Him, saying to the Jews, Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me (John 8:42). In order to make this purpose more clear and easier to understand the Lord then tells a story, He gives us the parable of the lost sheep. The Lord said, How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?" And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray (Mat 18:12-13). This parable of course spiritually represents Christ [the man] who seeks to find [restore fellowship with God the Father] individuals who were lost [separated from fe owship with God the Father]. As the apostle John said, That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). Those who have gone astray have lost fellowship with God the Father and His son, and Christ's purpose is For the Son of man is come to save [from destruction] that which was lost [had no fellowship with God, and as a result destined for destruction] (Mat 18:11), and because it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish [lost, die, be destroyed] (Mat 18:14). In all of these verses, God makes it clear that He loves the humble individual [little child] and that His primary purpose is to save this individual from death or destruction. Is this not what He meant when He said, And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted [elevated, lifted up, be given eternal life] (Mat 23:12).
The Lord then describes in detail not only how believers should respond when a brother [another believer] sins against us, but again refers to the importance of humility. He says, Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother (Mat 18:15). Christ defines a brother as a fellow believer when He says, For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother (Mark 3:35). If we can identify a brother because he or she does the will of God, what then is God's will? The apostle Mark defined for us the will of God saying, For this is the will of God, even your sanctification [purity, holiness], that ye should abstain from fornication: (1 Th 4:3). Even though Mark specifically mentions "abstaining from fornication" and is specifically speaking of personal, daily, bodily holiness here, individuals are eternally sanctified because of the crucifixion of Christ and our faith in Him. Individuals are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb 10:10),by the Holy Ghost (Rom 15:16), and by faith [in Jesus as the Christ] (Acts 26:18). Scripture defines a "brother" as an individual who does the will of God, and an individual does the will of God by becoming sanctified, and an individual becomes sanctified because and when he or she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. In essence, the faith in Christ of a believer sanctifies him or her, and this is the will of God. In this verse, the Lord instructs us to first go and talk with a brother who has sinned against us between thee and him alone, and if he shall hear thee [hear as well as respond appropriately], thou hast gained thy brother (Matt 18:15). I believe this "hearing" that Christ mentions here refers to the individual who has "offended one of these little ones which believe in me." In essence the Lord is saying that an humbled individual should and will admit and confess their sin against a fellow believer when that sin has been pointed out, whereas an "unconverted" [arrogant, rebellious, and unsaved] individual will not. The Lord then says, if he shall hear [respond humbly by confessing to you his or her sin], thou hast gained thy brother. What are we to do if the brother that has sinned against us does not respond humbly when we confront him or her? The Lord instructs us that if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established [heard and verified] (Mat 18:16). We are to take two or three witnesses with us so that what everyone says may be verified. In other words, if the individual continues to arrogantly deny his or her sin against us, two or three other individuals are to witness this denial. The Lord goes even further with this, saying, And if he shall neglect to hear them [the two or three witnesses], tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican (Mat 18:17). In other words, if they continue to refuse to humble themselves, we are to avoid them.
Then, in what appears to be a change of direction, Christ says an unusual thing: Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mat 18:18). What do binding and loosing mean, and what do they have to do with the story of this individual who has sinned against us? Although coming to an understanding of binding and loosing is difficult and elusive, two possible definitions can be offered. First, some scholars suggest that "binding" would be used in reference to something illegal, undesirable, disallowed or discouraged. In other words, an undesirable or illegal act or behavior would be "bound" up, restrained, and eliminated from our life. "Loosing" would refer to something legal, desirable, allowed, or encouraged, and therefore "loosed" or allowed to operate in one's life. As an example, one might loose the commandments, study of the Scriptures, or prayer in their life, but bind cursing, laziness or drunkenness in their life. Other scholars suggest a second definition in which "binding" refers to something that we are "bound" or intimately intertwined with, like the strands in a knitted sweater, whereas "loosing" refers to the separation of two objects, like the unraveling of the strands in a knitted sweater. With my current understanding, I tend to prefer this second definition simply because the Concordance definitions of bind and loose tend to be more consistent with this second definition. The word "bind" is the Greek word "deo" which means to "be in bonds, knit, tie, or wind." The word "loose" is the Greek word "luo" which means to "break up, dissolve, or put off." In the Concordance, binding seems to be more consistent with being closely intertwined in a relationship whereas loosing seems more consistent with the dissolving or breaking up of a relationship. In explaining his understanding of the definition of binding and loosing, Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates in his Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible offers some very interesting footnotes. He says in Matt 18:18 the two verbs "dedemenon" [bind] and "lelumenon" [loose] are both perfect passive participles which should have been translated respectively as "having been bound" and as "having been loosed" already in the heavens. Zodhiates emphasizes that believers on earth can only confirm what has already taken place in heaven. According to Dr. Zodhiates, binding and loosing refer to determining, and then emulating, what God has already included [bound] or excluded [loosed] according to His heavenly will and standards. I tend to agree with Dr. Zodhiates' comments which say that binding refers to something we have a close relationship with, whereas loosing refers to something to be excluded from our life. I personally believe than when He was speaking with Peter, what Christ referred to as the "key to the kingdom" (Mat 16:19) is seeking God's will and standards, and then following them [binding and loosing in our lives what God has already bound and loosed in the heavens], rather than men seeking their own will and standards here on earth and then asking God to approve and implement them. In Matt 18:18, I believe the Lord is saying that when an individual sins against one of the little ones that believe in Him, and that individual refuses to confess that sin to two or three witnesses [or the entire church] who have verified and "agreed" that a trespass has taken place, that individual, because of their continued arrogance, should be avoided. We as believers are no longer to be "bound" to these arrogant individuals, but "loosed" from their company not because we have decided to do this, but because the separation of this individual from us has already taken place and has been ordained spiritually in heaven. I believe the reason God the Father would have us separate ourselves from this individual is not because of their sin against us, but because of their continued arrogant refusal to confess their sin to us, two or three witnesses, or even the entire church. God is interested in their humility, because as He said except ye be converted [to humility], and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, and Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3-4). The Lord clarified His reaction to those who commit offenses or sin when He said, Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Mat 18:7) The Lord also clearly tells us how we should respond to offenses, and to those who bring the offense, when He said, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire (Mat 18:9). It is clear from Scripture that when an individual trespasses [offends, sins] against us and refuses to humble themselves by confessing their offense, we are to separate [loose] ourselves from them.
After all His discussion about conversion, humility, offenses, binding and loosing, the Lord then said, Again I say unto you, That if two [or three] of you [witnesses] shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven (Mat 18:19). In verse 19, the word "agree" is translated from the Greek word "sumphoneo," which means "to be harmonious, be in accord with, be suitable, or concur." Other than in Chapter 18 of Matthew, the Greek word "sumphoneo" occurs only five times in the New Testament: twice in the parable of the laborers in which the householder "agreed" with the labourers for a penny a day wages (Matt 20:2-13), once in which the Lord explained that new cloth would not "agree" with old garment (Luke 5:36), once when Ananias and his wife Sapphira "agreed" together to attempt to deceive and tempt the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9), and once regarding how the words of old Testament prophets "agreed" with what Paul and Barnabus were saying regarding God's visitation of the Gentiles (Acts 15:15). Using verse 19 by itself to justify the doctrinal view that when two or more believers "agree" with each other, they can receive from God whatever they ask is erroneous and dangerous for several reasons. First, as we mentioned, "agreement" in this context occurs in only one verse in the New Testament. In my opinion, one verse is poor justification on which to base a doctrine. Second, in the context of Matthew Chapter 18, what is specifically "agreed" upon is the fact that a brother has "trespassed against thee" (Mat 18:15), and not that two or more persons who agree about something can have whatever they ask. Third, when the Lord uses the word "Again" (Matt 18:19), He is reemphasizing the point of verse 18 that following prayer in seeking God's will and direction, whatever we are bound to or loosed from has already been bound or loosed in Heaven by God the Father. We are able to respond to this sinner "as a heathen man and a publican" because "whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be as having been already loosed by God the Father in the heavenlies." In other words, God has already ordained your agreement with one or two more witnesses that sin has taken place. Fourth, when the Lord says that if two or more of us shall agree on earth as touching [regarding] any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven," we must recognize that we as witnesses are "asking." The logic is that if we as witnesses and believers can automatically receive from God anything we ask if we just "agree," why then would we have to "ask" for anything? If we are having to ask, "what and to whom are we asking?" I believe that what we are [or should be] asking for is not that our will be accepted and then accomplished by God, but that we are seeking God's mind and will regarding a matter. Who we are asking is God Himself. Fifth, if believers can receive from God whatever they ask for by simply agreeing, why are so many believers "agreeing" with each other about so many issues and not receiving what they have agreed upon? The answer is simple: they are agreeing about something that is not God's will. We only receive what we ask for when it's consistent with God's will and purpose. Christ made this perfectly clear when He said, And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him (1 John 5:14-15). The apostle James tells us why we do not receive what we agree upon when he said, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts [and not according to God's will] (James 4:3). Christ then summarizes why two or more believers who are following God's will through prayer will be given what they are asking when He said, For where two or three are gathered together in my name [according to my will, purpose, and plans] there am I in the midst of them (Mat 18:20). When two or three [or the entire church] seek God's will and plan first, He is always there in the midst of them. When, after seeking God's will through prayer, we "agree" together and ask for something according to His will and plans, have we not then "humbled ourselves as a little child" and become, in God's view, "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." It is only then That if two [or three, or the entire church] of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven (Mat 18:19).  AMEN.
                                                           A Judeo-Christian Bible Study
"Being confident
of this very
thing, that he
 which hath
begun a good
work in you
will perform it
until the day
of Jesus Christ"
(Php 1:6)

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