The Seed Plot of the Assembly, Part 2 – Matthew 18:18-208 min read
The Assembly and Its Connection With Heaven – 18-19
Having the excommunication of the brother who rebelled against assembly authority in our minds, we come to verse 18 which says “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.” Some say this refers to the apostles specifically and their authority in the early church, but we must not forget to treat verses 15-20 as one section – completely in local church context. So then, while at the beginning this may have been true that in the early church the apostles held this position of binding and loosing, it was only so because they did it in local assembly capacity. Just by looking to other Scriptures we can see that this is true of an assembly when it acts in discipline. So then, while specifically connected with excommunication, we can see that the assembly as a whole must be God’s administration center on earth. Was this not the idea in Genesis 28, when Jacob said of the House of God “This is the gate of heaven”? The gate of a city was its center of administration, and it is the same for the assembly. (In a place where Christ’s Lordship, Headship, and honor are preeminent it is only fitting that God accomplish His purposes there. Conversely it is only fitting that we bow to God-ordained roles and order in the place where He accomplishes His purposes.) In this administrative role, what the assembly does on earth is in fellowship with what Heaven decrees. It is not that the assembly commands the reaction of Heaven by creating new ordinances or anything like that, but that every step is in coordination with God’s order and authority. If, then, a brother who sinned is dealt with by excommunication on Biblical grounds, God honors that and treats the situation accordingly. How solemn that when one is dealt with by God’s assembly on Biblical grounds, it is actually just the earthly site of a heavenly courtroom. The Most High has chosen to stamp the assembly with His seal of authority and approval; let us be very careful how we conduct ourselves within it.
Verse 18 presents connection with Heaven in administration. But then we come to verse 19 and find connection with Heaven in communication. “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.” Once again, this must be associated with the context of binding and loosing in terms of assembly discipline. In administration it is the entire assembly in view. In communication, there are just two seen in supplication before the Throne on the matter, and God chooses to honor that. Why? Because in this He grants that these two spiritually-minded believers are acting responsibly on the assembly’s behalf and in fellowship with Heaven. But there is one reason that is supreme over all of these: “Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Surely when the Lord Jesus sanctions that gathering by His presence and authority, the Father will accomplish the purpose those believers had for meeting. It is not that a few believers would gather together lightly and for a random purpose. On the contrary, here we see believers with a solemn purpose, an assembly-related purpose, a purpose for which they gathered unto Christ’s name and authority.
The Assembly and Its Ground of Gathering – 20
This brings us to the ground of the assembly’s gathering in verse 20, for although this finds its context in discipline, the promise is carried through to every meeting of the assembly. So often has this verse been misconstrued and stripped of its beauty by being applied to any meeting of Christians for any purpose. Yet the context clearly indicates a few things that are assembly specific:
- The context of administration, which needs a local body to be carried out.
- There is a locality in mind: “Where.” But what characterizes that locality? It is the name and authority of Christ. “Unto My name.” This is collective and specific; otherwise, acting with His sanctioning becomes arbitrary.
- The structure of the verses won’t allow. Words like “Again” and “For” don’t provide for a splitting off of this verse from the context of an assembly.
- This verse would make no sense to separate it from its context. Why would the Lord set this entire section apart by speaking of matters relating to the assembly and its members only to end with a promise that has no direct connection to the assembly? Why would we go from a context of a constant, collective, called-out group which is marked by fellowship with Heaven to the average coffee-hour that two or three believers share every once in a while? This must be assembly-specific even just for logical reasons.
So then, we are met first of all with the assembly in its smallest possible meeting – two or three. Though the entire assembly is obviously not present, this gathering is still associated with assembly function and activity. It is amazing that God ordains blessing in even the smallest of meetings; surely, then, this promise of verse 20 must apply to all the rest, thus becoming foundational to the assembly as a whole. But it is quite interesting to notice too that the focus is on the gathering, not just on the membership. While everybody else was still part of the assembly as a group, because they were not present at that meeting, they were not seen as sharing in this collective presence of Christ. This should tell us the specific nature of this promise, and it should provoke us to not only be part of an assembly in terms of membership, but in full participation at all its meetings.
Secondly, we are brought to the phrase “unto My name.” This is in the first place a specific adherence to God’s authority; thus it is His Word that takes precedence in everything. Thus the concept of an assembly subject to man’s wisdom and organization is really an oxymoron in light of Scripture’s definition. And yet this idea of His name goes even further. Notice Deuteronomy 12, “But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come… Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there…” Or consider the words of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, “Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.” And God confirms this in chapter 9, “And the LORD said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.” The assembly is not only the seat of God’s administration and authority, but it is the center of His personal dealings and delight. It is the place which He entrusts with His reputation. It is the place which He entrusts with His revelation. It is the place He enjoys being. Surely there can’t be any room to discount the value of the assembly. It is that which God marks by His very Person; we can’t diminish that. And if we cannot demean the value of this, surely we cannot but hold His Word and authority in the highest honor as the place and people of His delight.
But it goes further than that. He promises “There am I in the midst of them.” He is the attracting force of believers. He is their gathering center. He is what makes the local body a temple, as 1 Corinthians 3 describes it. It is easy to think of this in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact sort of way; but let us individually take time to digest just what this means. It is similar to what happened when Solomon dedicated the temple.
“And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD. Then spake Solomon, The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness. I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever.”
While we may not see a thick cloud, let us not think of the gathering of the assembly as any less than the Most Holy Place. God is not arbitrary or vague in His promises. Christ has promised His full presence. How can we claim any less than that? It is ours to enjoy. When was the last time you by faith sensed the spiritual “cloud” filling the house? When was the last time you stood in silent awe that the God Whom the heavens cannot contain would personally make His dwelling with a people such as we? In light of all these unfathomable truths, surely our only appropriate response is one of devotion and worship “in the beauty of holiness.”