Matthew 18:18-20 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Jesus is teaching us about forgiveness in these words—not the forgiveness we receive, but the forgiveness we extend to others as individuals and as the Church. There are three things Jesus tells us to assure us that our own giving or withholding of forgiveness in love is valid.
First, he reveals that as we speak and act, God is doing the same thing in heaven. He uses a picture of forgiveness and withholding forgiveness that depicts sins like chains, ropes, or handcuffs that bind us. You and I have been deputized, and like the deputy sheriff, we may be “the law in these here parts.” We speak with authority. We can take away someone’s freedom, throw them in the clink, figuratively speaking. Or we can let them go, as we withhold and give forgiveness.
That doesn’t make us the Ultimate Authority. We must act in harmony with the law above us. Still, when we do, the Ultimate Judge and Lawman is backing us up all the way. He claims our actions and decisions as his own.
Second, God will listen to our prayers in such serious and heart-wrenching situations and grant them. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” These words are true about prayer in general. They assure us that when a group of Christians has explored God’s Word and come to agreement about his will, he will answer our requests.
But in this context, Jesus is applying them specifically to matters of church discipline. Then we are dealing with the eternal fate of precious souls for whom our Savior has shed his blood. Our pronouncements don’t create the spiritual situation for the sinner. Our withholding forgiveness does not make the person an unbeliever. Granting forgiveness does not make the person a believer. We do, however, communicate to the person under discipline where he stands with God and eternity.
And our words hold the power of the gospel to change a heart. It is hard to think that, with heaven and hell in the balance, we would not be pleading to God in our prayers for wisdom, guidance, and blessing. “Uncover the hearts of the people involved, Lord. Show us your will and lead us to do what is right.” Jesus reply? “It will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” He gives further confidence to God’s people that applying his message of forgiveness or judgment is valid and true.
Third, Jesus promises, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This is another passage we often apply to other situations. We are assured that Jesus is with us in a special way when we have gathered around his word to worship him. Here he wants us to know this also is true when the church meets to deal with those who are defending their sin and won’t give it up. Jesus himself is with us. He is an invisible part of our gathering. His voice stands behind all our voices. Sure of his presence, we may remove the unrepentant from the fellowship of the church or promise forgiveness and welcome the prodigal home.
In his grace Jesus makes our voices his voice, and uses them with his authority, when he calls on us to rescue our brothers and sisters from sin.