In the Fulness of Time/Part 117

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2009
After giving the disciples instruction on Discipline in the coming Church, Jesus now turns to the subjects of decision making and intercession.

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Authority in Decisions Matthew 18: 18

Mt. 18:18 “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.”

After giving the disciples instruction on Discipline in the coming Church, Jesus now turns to the subject of decision making. Several small but not insignificant truths are inherent in verses 17-18. For one thing, the decision to treat an erring brother as a heathen and tax collector is to be individually made: “Let him be to thee” (singular). Yet, there is to be unity in expelling him from the ecclesia, the called-out group, as verse 18 shows by the use of the plural, “Whosoever ye shall bind on earth.” A third inference is that the local church is the final court of appeal. Though in one sense it may seem like an argument from silence, yet the absence of instruction to gather other local churches together to try the case, or even the lack of instituting church officials, bishops and deacons, at this time, point to the conclusion that Christ meant for the entire local congregation to make the decision binding.

The actual binding or loosing is expressed as it was in 16:19, namely, periphrastic future perfect passive: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” The decision of the local church is automatically ratified by the Father in heaven. Then, there is a final reference, that is, that this authority in decisions was not merely given to Peter (16:19), nor limited to the apostles (John 20:23) but extends to the entire Church, that is, each local Church.

Authority in Intercession. Matthew 18:19-20

Mt. 18:19-20 “Again I say unto you that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, There am I in the midst of them.”

Some of the commentaries limit the “two or three” to the witnesses of verse 16 and the agreement on what they ask to be related specifically to the sin of the brother in verse 15, and intimate that verses 19-20 may not refer to prayer at all, but to two judges appointed to deal with the case. However, in order to support such an interpretation, words are added to the text, so that these limitations can be imposed. No doubt there is some connection with the previous verses, but there is no good reason to confine these words of Jesus to the specific situation of a brother’s sin being brought before the congregation. A simple listing of circumstances will show the differences.

First, in verses 15-17 the four-step instructions for discipline progressively involve one person, two or three witnesses, then the entire assembly. If the encounter with the two or three witnesses does not produce repentance, then the whole group becomes involved, and they make the decision, not the witnesses. Verse 19 could not apply in such an outcome.

Though attempts have been made to make these words, peri pantos pragmatos, in verse 15 refer to “an arbitrary judicial matter,” this usage is not acceptable here, according a number of Greek Lexicons, such as Arndt, W.F. and Gingrich, F. W., A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957 p. 697: “pragma 6. Gener. Thing, matter, affair… about anything at all. Matt. 18:19.” Also, Kittel, Gerhard, editor. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids. Eerdmans Publishers, 1965-76, Volume 6, p. 693: “In 6 of the 11 New Testament instances, the meaning is neutral. Prayer will be heard as touching all possible matters.”

It may occur on certain occasions that the two persons, agreeing on a brother’s need to repent, would pray to the Father and that the sinner would be moved by God to change his stubborn attitude, but this does not prevent a general use of pragma to include any matter brought before the Lord by two believers who agree in prayer.

Such prayers are always contingent upon the will of God (1 John 5:14), they must not be asked “amiss” to consume things upon their own lusts (James 4:3), and they are to be asked in the Name of Christ (John 14:13-14). It is unfair therefore, to say that Matthew 18:19 cannot be a reference to prayer simply because it is presumptuous to ask anything and expect it to be answered! The relationship between the power of God in verse 19 and the presence of Christ in verse 20, gives real assurance to united prayer. This is not to say that the Father will not answer individual prayers, but it does show that Christ honors those who agree together in His Name! “In the fulness of time,” prayer will be answered; it is ours simply to watch and pray!

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