In the August 2010 edition of Precious Seed International I wrote an article entitled ‘Fellowship’. In this I suggested that there were six aspects of local assembly fellowship which are vital for every believer. These are our commitment, continuity, conduct, contribution, care and compliance. There is however another aspect of local assembly fellowship that is the most important – the person of the Lord Jesus Christ! He is the sole reason why we gather together. He is the centre of attraction in every assembly gathering. It is to Him that we gather.
In Matthew chapter 18 the Lord Jesus speaks about the local church, Matt. 18. 15-20. In particular the passage is about one brother who has a complaint or argument with another brother. In this setting the Lord Jesus says, For where two or three are (having been and currently) gathered together in (unto) my name, there am I in the midst of them, v. 20. This verse is very precious to many believers as it speaks about the presence of the Lord Jesus in the centre of a local assembly gathering. I would like to think with you about the teaching of the verse about the principle, promise and practice of ‘Christ in the central place’.
The simple principle is this. Wherever at least two believers, the smallest possible gathering, have been gathered together, by the Holy Spirit, unto the name of Christ, then He graciously is present among them.
Many believers say that the application of this verse to every gathering of the local assembly is not appropriate as the context of the verse is that of one specific meeting, i.e., for discipline. They are right about the context, but wrong about the application. What some fail to notice is that the presence of God dwelling among His people is a principle which begins in the Old Testament and runs throughout the Bible.
It has always been God’s desire to dwell or fellowship among His people. This is seen in the past in the Tabernacle, Ex. 25. 8, the Temple, currently in the local assemblies, 1 Tim. 3. 15 and in the future in the Eternal State, Rev. 21. 3.
Secondly, it has always been God’s right to dwell among His people. That is, He should be the focal point and attraction of their gathering. He has this right because of who He is. No wonder then that Christ is often to be found in the midst, Luke 2. 46; 24. 36; John 1. 26; 19. 18; Rev. 1. 13; 5. 6.
The Old Testament shows us that as a result of this desire God chose a place where all His people could gather unto Him. Deuteronomy chapter 12 verse 5 declares, ‘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’.
Note four most important similarities in this verse to our verse in Matthew chapter 18 verse 20.
|Deut. 12. 5 (OT)||Matt. 18. 20 (NT)||Similarity|
|‘the place which the LORD your God shall choose’||‘where two or three are’||The place was chosen by God. Likewise the local assembly gathers in the place where the Spirit of God has brought them together.|
|‘thither thou shalt come’||‘gathered together’||The place was where the nation of Israel gathered together to worship God collectively. Likewise, the local assembly gathers together for this purpose too.|
|‘to put his name there’||‘in my name’||The place was where God had set His name as a testimony. Likewise, the local assembly gathers unto the name of the Lord Jesus.|
|‘his habitation shall ye seek’||‘there am I in the midst’||The presence of God was in this chosen place. Likewise, when the local assembly gathers the Lord Jesus presences Himself in their midst.|
Clearly then, God dwelling among His people is a scriptural principle. It is interesting that the place where God set His name in the Old Testament was marked by worship, Deut. 12. 6, commemoration, Deut. 16. 2, reverence, Deut. 14. 23, joy, Deut. 12. 12 and obedience, Deut. 12. 14. The local assembly should be marked by these things when we gather too!
We should also notice some important differences. There is no longer one place where God has set His name, but many. There is now no separate priesthood, but we are all priests, 1 Pet. 2. 5. We no longer offer blood sacrifices but spiritual sacrifices, 1 Pet. 2. 5. Furthermore, instrumental music which marked the services of the Temple has gone! We now sing accompanied by the Spirit and understanding, 1 Cor. 14. 15.
The wonderful promise of the Lord Jesus to presence Himself in the midst of His gathered people appears to come attached with two conditions.
The first condition is that the company must have been gathered by the Holy Spirit, not by men. This is indicated by the Greek of Matthew chapter 18 verse 20. The gathering must be of a permanent nature and established in times past by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It is not a temporary gathering, for example, a few believers meeting to remember the Lord Jesus on holiday, in a hotel room.
The second condition is that Christ is glorified. Our verse says the saints are gathered ‘unto his name’. That is, when we meet we do so with the purpose of glorifying and uplifting the Person of Christ. We are representing Him and therefore must gather according to His character, 2 Tim. 2. 19 and His instructions as laid out in the New Testament.
Never forget that Christ’s presence among us is as a result of grace, and nothing to do with anything in us.
So what does all this mean in practice? It might help to consider this question: What would our assembly gatherings be like without Christ in the midst? Dead? Self centred? Meaningless formality? Powerless? The simple truth of the matter is we need Him powerfully present in our midst.
When reading of the Seven Churches, Rev. 2-3, you might notice that five were bad and two were good. The Lord Jesus found it necessary to rebuke five of these churches for something that was missing. In Ephesus it was love. In Sardis it was life. In Thyatira and Pergamos it was light and in Laodicea it was loyalty. They were not demonstrating the character of Christ as they should have done. The other two churches however were marked by the power of Christ among them. Is it just coincidence that they were the churches marked by suffering (Smyrna) and submission (Philadelphia)? This is the kind of Christ-like character that needs to be demonstrated by us as we gather together and serve Him.
So, young brother, young sister, Christ is present among us when we gather. Does this affect the way you act? If you could physically see Christ in the centre of the gathering on a Lord’s Day morning, would you remain silent? Scripture teaches that we are priests and should conduct ourselves in an appropriate way (the brothers audibly and the sisters inaudibly). If you could physically see Christ in the centre of the gathering in the midweek prayer meeting, would you still allow your mind to wander, or think about the things that you do? If you could physically see Him in the midst, would you still be late for the meeting or act in the way that you do when you are there?
It is really worth thinking about the challenging questions which are asked at the end of this article. Hopefully, as a result, we will become more conscious of the Lord’s presence when we gather together.