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Matthew 18:19-20 (NASB):

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

Are there cases when two believers agree and pray for something and it doesn’t happen? The phrase “it shall be done for them” seems pretty clear, but I don’t know if the original language is this strong. If so, why does this not seem to be true today (there are a number of times I have agreed with another believer to pray for something, but it doesn’t happen).

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  • Two crucial conditions exist. 1. If two of 'you'. 2. In my name. If the conditions are not met, the promise does not apply.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 25 '20 at 22:34
  • Prayer is always answered. It may not be the answer you want. It is answered according to God's will.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 26 '20 at 11:40
  • @Gremosa - I think you may have slightly misquoted the NASB which says, Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
    – Dottard
    Jul 27 '20 at 0:51
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I don't think that Jesus is here talking about prayer or answers to prayer.

In this section Jesus is making the point about his identification with the church in the context of church discipline. He is saying that the church has authority to enact discipline and it is, if you like 'backed up' by Christ himself as if he was enacting that discipline. He works in and through the church. This is because, as he says in the verse that you quote, "where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.".

So I do not believe here Jesus is making a specific point about answers to prayer; rather he is saying that the church has his authority to enact discipline within the family of God.

He does say similar things elsewhere in the context of prayer (e.g. John 14:14) - but I think that would probably be a different question!

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  • 1
    +1 upvote. Context,Context, Context. This answer is also interesting because you have also taken into account the instructions about correcting Christians who sinfully stray away in Matthew 18:15-20 because it suggests that this passage might be about prayer involving church discipline/correction of those Christians who sinfully stray away, and therefore Not merely about prayer in general. That's interesting.
    – crazyTech
    Aug 19 at 17:16
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Matt 18:19, 20 cannot and should not be divorced from the previous verses because V18 begins with the word, Πάλιν (Palin) = "Again". So let me quote the context:

V18 is essential to understand the the explicit connection with V19. V 18 says (NASB):

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Allow me to quote from J B Phillips (The New Testament in Modern English, Collins) on this important Greek construction:

Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, "forbidding" and "permitting". There is a very curious Greek construction here, viz, a simple future followed by the perfect participle passive. If Jesus had meant to say quite simply, Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven", can anyone explain why the simple future passive is not used? It seems to me that if the words of Jesus are accurately reported here, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the force of these sayings is that Jesus’ true disciples will be so led by the Spirit that they will be following the heavenly pattern. In other words what they “forbid” or “permit” on earth will be consonant with the Divine rules.

Thus, and this is the nub of the issue, Christ's followers will act in accordance with the will of heaven (not the other way around). This is what it means to "gather in my [Christ's] name" (Matt 18:20) - to act in accordance with Christ's/heaven's will. we know this is the intent of Jesus comment because He further says, that "For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them." (Matt 18:20) Again, people are acting, and requesting things, according to the will of God.

Under such circumstances, where people act according to the will of God, and Christ is in their midst, of course God will respond positively by granting the request - God always acts in accordance with His own will.

The purpose of prayer is to bring us to God, NOT to bend God's will to ours.

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  • "of course God will respond positively by granting the request - God always acts in accordance with His own will" That makes it a bit of a joke, IMO. "It shall be done for them" doesn't square with this interpretation. Why two? Why not just one? It doesn't make sense. Aug 16 at 20:10
  • @OneGodtheFather - God is sovereign, man is responsible. We do not command God, God commands us! The whole point of conversion is the transformation of the heart and mind to act in accordance with the will of God.
    – Dottard
    Aug 16 at 21:48
  • Yes, God is sovereign! Why would Jesus say what He said if that's His point? Again, why two? Why not just one? Why ask for something, instead of just listening and acting on God's guidance? There's a better way to say these things if the point is that God is sovereign. Aug 16 at 21:57
  • @OneGodtheFather - God often uses a group to achieve a decision that would be difficult by one person - witness the ground-breaking decision of the acts 15 about circumcision! A group is one way to suppress the individual will and search for the will of God.
    – Dottard
    Aug 16 at 22:05
  • 1
    My guess is Jesus is saying something much more radical. Once we are in Christ, we become co-creators with the Father, and authority is delegated (just as authority was delegated to Jesus and the Apostles). God didn't create us with minds and brains for no reason - we are to use them to solve problems. Aug 16 at 22:23
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+25

Is agreed-upon prayer always answered?

Short Answer: Yes, if one is in Christ.

Matthew is speaking of the greater efficacy of compound prayers, those offered by two or more saints, that their appeal to God may be fulfilled. However, let us note this: It is not clear how the prayers of two or more people are necessarily more efficacious than the prayers of one person alone. However, it does superficially seem to be the case (see Addendum below).

Commentator James Coffman had this to say, although this may be incomplete:

This is one of God's most precious promises. Providential care on the part of God for his church is always available. The smallness of the church or its relative insignificance in the community is not a determining factor in God's concern for its peace and welfare. Two or three faithful disciples are enough to claim the Father's blessing.

Note that all requests, no matter how urgent we believe them to be take backseat to the will of God; He often has much greater plans in the works, and if our prayers do not conflict with His purposes, they are likely to be answered — and in fact, they are often answered in conjunction with His greater, farther-reaching goals.

Rather than consider a multiplicity of simultaneous requests to God, perhaps we should contemplate Scripture that addresses the prayers of individual saints:

John 14:13-14: "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (emphasis added).

What is paramount to recognize, is that we must walk in the Light as we ask for assistance. If we do not obey God, if for example, we regularly forsake the assembly or we are living ungodly lives of fornication, adultery, and so forth, God does not hear our prayers:

John 9:31: "[The blind man to the Pharisees] We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him."

Addendum

There is something very significant about Matthew's text, which we should not miss! I cite the previous passage (:18) in this vein here:

Matthew 18:18: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

What is Christ saying? He is indicating that, through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles (and certain chosen disciples), what they record in Scripture is the final Word from God — and it is binding both on earth as it is in heaven.

The reason for this is that Scripture is the unassailable, unalterable, mandate by God that cannot be broken. Therefore, when two or more of the apostles gathered for prayer to God, their prayers would be heard and answered for the benefit of all who ever read the Message. Without such direction, we would be hopelessly adrift.

This is the greater significance of Matthew 18 that we should not overlook.

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  • Universal/Local Church is yet to be formed in the context (occurrence) of these verses, as it happens at day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and that also after the ascension of Christ; so how come these verses are considered/assumed for Church's discipline only and not in the entirety of Christianity... Aug 24 at 22:36
  • @AshishEben Yes, the ascension of Christ came first, followed by Pentecost. And, these verses are initially referring to the establishment of the Church as 2-3 apostolic witnesses gather together. (This is where they can agree on doctrine for the N/T, as in Acts 15.) Could you restate the rest that you are asking?
    – Xeno
    Aug 24 at 22:47
  • @AshishEben It is contrary to the context to assume this is a promise from God that any 2 or 3 Christians may ask anything from Him and receive what they ask. Rather, Jesus is talking to the disciples within the context of a sinner who is being removed from them. These men will be Christ's apostles and possess great authority upon His departure as the church grows. They'll be responsible for accurately dividing godly truths. So, when they decide someone is bound/freed by/from sin, it is true. As well, if they decide someone is included/removed in/from the church, that is also just and true.
    – Xeno
    Aug 24 at 23:22
  • Math 18 starts with a different topic towards Jesus "who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"; so why are these verse considered/assumed for Church's discipline only and not for anyone whos in Christ as Church is the body of Christ; because in context of these verses, its pointing towards reconciliation of brethren or forgiving the one who has trespassed against you. Further after Jesus spoke (v15-20), Peter questions how often should I forgive (v21). Aug 24 at 23:24
  • @AshishEben Christ's comments on prayer must be carefully understood by the disciples. Yes, this promise follows the statement on binding/loosing, which itself is a continuation of remarks about church discipline. In this case, that seems to limit application to the disciples' prayer of removing a believer from the community for refusing repentance. All of this is intertwined, but not obviously so. What the passages are not saying is that God promises that when any 2 or 3 saints come together to ask for something, God will always provide that for which they ask.
    – Xeno
    Aug 24 at 23:29
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To understand v19, we need to read & understand the pre-text/verses 15-20; which speaks about reconciliation of two brothers/brethren due to the sin committed by either of them "...thy brother shall trespass against thee" by the ways Jesus is instructing/giving it unto the 12 disciples.

As per the v15-17, there are brethren who don't reconcile in private "...between you and him alone" or even after providing evidences in the presence of other witnesses/church "...established by the evidence of two or three witnesses" & "...he refuses to listen even to the church".
So Jesus suggests to distance yourself from such folks "...let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector".

Matthew 18:15-17:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

v18-19: Further, here Jesus suggests there is still a way "Again I say to you.." if both of them are in mutual agreement "...two of you agree on earth" to reconcile, then taking it in prayer - God will surely answer their prayer, as God doesn't want his believers to live in discontentment with each other.

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Words "bind" & "agree" here mean the same as permitting

v20: Jesus here, speaks about His presence among believers.

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”


v12-14: And if we dive in further of the pre-text/verses, we can clearly understand, that God doesn't like His sheep to go astray from Him.

12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?

13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.

14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.



To get a better grip/understanding around such verses:

1 John 3:22

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

1 John 5:14

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.



Commentary Support: studylight.org

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The restoration of a wayward disciple v18:15-20

Jesus proceeded to explain what a humble disciple should do when a brother or sister disciple has wandered from the Shepherd and the sheep.

Adam Clarke

Matthew 18:19.
Again I say unto you — The word αμην, verily, is added here, in ninety-eight MSS., (many of which are of the greatest antiquity and importance,) seven editions, all the Arabic, the Slavonic, and several of the Itala. The taking in or leaving out such a word may appear to some a matter of indifference; but, as I am fully convinced Jesus Christ never spoke a useless or a needless word, my maxim is, to omit not one syllable that I am convinced (from such authority as the above) he has ever used, and to take in nothing that he did not speak. It makes the passage much more emphatic - Again, VERILY I say unto you,

If two of you shall agree — συμφωνηστωσιν, symphonize, or harmonize. It is a metaphor taken from a number of musical instruments set to the same key, and playing the same tune: here, it means a perfect agreement of the hearts, desires, wishes, and voices, of two or more persons praying to God. It also intimates that as a number of musical instruments, skilfully played, in a good concert, are pleasing to the ears of men, so a number of persons united together in warm, earnest, cordial prayer, is highly pleasing in the sight and ears of the Lord. Now this conjoint prayer refers, in all probability, to the binding and loosing in the preceding verse; and thus we see what power faithful prayer has with God!

It shall be done for them — What an encouragement to pray! even to two, if there be no more disposed to join in this heavenly work.

Bridgeway Bible

Lessons in forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-35)

Disciples of Jesus should be willing to forgive fellow believers who sin against them, but they should also be concerned that offenders realize their sin and turn from it. In each case the believer should go to the offender privately and point out the wrongdoing, so that the person might be spiritually helped. If this fails, two or three others should be called in, firstly to make sure that the offender is in fact guilty and secondly to appeal for reconciliation. If this also fails, the entire community of believers should appeal to the offender. Should there still be no change, believers should treat the offender as if no longer part of their fellowship; though they should also desire the person’s repentance and restoration (Matthew 18:15-18).

God has given his people the responsibility to deal with such cases, and they must find out God’s will and do it. If they are to be confident that their actions carry God’s authority, they will not act in haste or out of personal prejudice. They have Jesus’ assurance that as they talk and pray about the matter, he will be with them, silently giving his guidance and help (Matthew 18:19-20).

Peter asked how many times Jesus’ followers should forgive before taking the severe action that Jesus had just outlined. Jesus’ reply shows that the severe action was not intended to be an alternative to forgiveness. Believers do not take action against offenders out of spite, but out of a concern for the offenders’ spiritual good. Regardless of how many times offenders do them wrong, believers must still forgive them (Matthew 18:21-22).

To illustrate the point, Jesus told a story. A king forgave a servant a huge debt, but the servant then refused to forgive a fellow servant a small debt (Matthew 18:23-30). When the king heard of his servant’s behaviour, he withdrew his forgiveness (Matthew 18:31-34). The lesson is that God will not forgive people if they do not forgive others (Matthew 18:35; cf. v6:12).


P.S. If the reading or understanding of the v19-20 is done out of context then we are missing the whole dialect of the conversation, since v19-20 doesn't imply/suggest that His words are a promise to answer any prayer (regardless of its alignment with God's will); rather the prayer's context is for those brethren, who are in mutual agreement and wish to reconcile

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  • Up-voted +1. I am not certain I agree with you but I appreciate the well ordered answer, the attention to context, the varied scriptural referencing and the considerable support from commentary.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21 at 7:37
  • Universal/Local Church is yet to be formed in the context (occurrence) of these verses, as it happens at day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and that also after the ascension of Christ; so how come these verses are considered/assumed for Church's discipline only and not in the entirety of Christianity... Aug 24 at 22:36
1

John 8:17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.

Jesus was affirming a law in the OT and added a new condition to it they had to be in His name.

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  1. The context of Matthew 18:19-20 is church discipline.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt. 18:15–20, ESV)

The reference is to witnesses.

A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. (Deut. 19:15, ESV)

  1. Prayer should be seeking God's will; not telling God what to do. Prayer is always answered, but it is not always yes.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:26–27, ESV)

Pray then like this:

              “Our Father in heaven, 
              hallowed be your name. 
        10       Your kingdom come, 
              your will be done, 
  on earth as it is in heaven. 
        11       Give us this day our daily bread, 
        12       and forgive us our debts, 
  as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
        13       And lead us not into temptation, 
  but deliver us from evil. 
         (Matt 6:9–13, ESV)
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Is agreed-upon prayer always answered?

Yes, one way or another, but that has nothing to do with Matthew 18:19-20 (NASB):

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.

If one takes this out of context and applies it universally, we can clearly see that in practice, this universal promise cannot be true. Why did Jesus say it then? What was his point?

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

That's the point. Jesus wanted to encourage corporate prayers. Don't just pray by yourself. Pray as a group as well.

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  • I agree with everything you said, Tony. And, this is what I initially thought. But the text is going deeper. I'll just leave you with this quote by Albert Barnes (studylight.org): "The meaning of this verse is, whatever you shall do in the discipline of the church shall be approved by God or bound in heaven. This promise, therefore, cannot be understood as extending to all Christians or ministers, for all others but the apostles may err... The promise here has respect to the apostles in organizing the church. It cannot with any propriety be applied to the ordinary prayers of believers."
    – Xeno
    Aug 25 at 16:35
  • I agree. Thanks for the link. :)
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 25 at 16:39
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The interpretation of "praying in the name of Christ" means to:

...pray as directed (authorized) by Him, bringing revelation that flows out of being in His presence. "Praying in Jesus' name" therefore is not a "religious formula" just to end prayers (or get what we want)!

["According to Hebrew notions, a name is inseparable from the person to whom it belongs, i.e. it is something of his essence. See this site.

Jesus prayed, "Father, protect them by the power of your name." John 17:11

The above passage is a reference to being under the guidance, influence and direction of God's Spirit. For prayer to be effective, people need to discern God's will.

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Yes. When Jesus says “again” we can take that to mean that this is an important point that he has taught about before and applies to other situations near and dear to his heart, not just to church discipline, but also, for example,to the protection and evangelism/restoration examples above.

11 [“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] 12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

2 Peter 3:9 reiterates that the Lord is not willing that any should perish. There is no need to limit the power of agreement among committed believers to the juxtaposed context. It would be difficult to find any context constraints for a similar promise in John 14.

12 Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

We must also not make the mistake that this means that whatever arbitrary request it occurs to us to ask, even if it seems godly, will be granted. The power of agreed-upon prayer comes from the unity of believers that God ordains and blesses because most importantly, Christ himself is present. If believers are joined together in oneness with Christ, their request will be the same as if he requested it and it will certainly be answered. John gives us an example of the power of this unity for evangelism.

"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:22-23, NIV)

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