By Pastor Glenn Pease
Even if we do not have a head for numbers there are certain numbers that have become a part of our culture and we recognize them. The number 57 by itself is meaningless, but in 1896 Henry Heinz saw an add in New York for 21 varieties of shoes, and he decided to choose a number for the products of his company. He decided 57 was good, and Heinz 57 varieties became a part of our language. He had more than 57 products even in 1896, and has a ton more now, but that number is his trademark.
If I said catch-18 you would sense a mistake but that was the original title of Joseph Hellers first novel. But Leon Uris was coming out with a novel with the same number in the title, and he was better known. Heller, with the help of his editors, scrambled for another number, and the result is catch-22. It has become a part of our culture.
In our text Jesus says where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst. This too has become a numerical phrase that is part of our culture. We have all used this text to comfort and encourage ourselves when only a few people show up for an event. But most, like myself, have never studied the context of these words of our Lord, and thus we have missed the full significance of the focus of Jesus on small numbers. The smallest possible number of people that can be called a group is two. One is never a group. The absolute minimum is two. But Jesus says this smallest possible number of people relating is packed with potential power for a accomplishing the purpose of God.
Jesus says in verses 15 to 17, the best possible way to solve a relationship problem is for two people to work it out between themselves. If you are offended, the Christian way to deal with it is to go to the offender and settle the matter between the two of you. The next best is to expand the group to three, or possibly four. Take one or two others and try to resolve the issue, but keep it a very small group. The least number of people involved in a conflict the better says Jesus. Only failure on this best level should lead to the issue becoming a large group matter. The larger the group the more likely that it will end in a negative outcome. If the church of 20, or 30, or 100 people get involved the end is likely judgment. The smaller the number of people involved in a dispute the more likely it will be solved in a positive manner.
In verse 19 Jesus says, "If two of you shall agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." What is the best size for a prayer meeting? In our day of big is better thinking we strive for concerts of prayer that reach thousands of people, but for Jesus the best number was two. Just two people in agreement have the power to move all of heaven toward an objective. How many is enough for great power and prayer? Jesus says two is enough. We say two in a prayer meeting is pathetic, but Jesus says it is a powerful number.
Then in verse 20 Jesus says the small group of two or three may not draw the press, but it will draw me. I'll be there he says, where only two or three gather in my name. What is the minimum number of people to call a group a church? Jesus says two is the rock bottom number. One is not a church, but two can be a church, and one that is big enough and powerful enough to move the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to attend. You can't get any smaller than two and be a church, but on the other hand, you can't get a more important guest no matter how much bigger you get.
If Jesus is there with two, and they have the potential to get God to put his stamp of approval on their goals, then these two have just as much potential for fulfilling the will of God as any gathering of hundreds or thousands. In fact, they have a better chance because of two characteristics of a small group that are hard to achieve in a larger group. They are, unity and intimacy. Before we look at these two let me give you a brief survey of one of God's favorite numbers-the number two. He is not anti-millions, billions, or trillions, but he is partial to two. No computer can match God's love of the infinite as he names the stars and counts the hairs of our heads, and the number of grains of sand on the shores of the world. God is the great mathematician, and he is into numbers that are beyond our comprehension. But if you want to get close to God and know him more intimately you need to focus on numbers like two and three. This is a subject to vast to study, so let me just give you highlights of God's love for the number two.
It all started at creation where God made all of reality fall into two categories. There was light and darkness, day and night, with two great lights to rule the day and night-the sun and the moon. He had other planets with more moons, but for us it was one to rule the day and one to rule the night. Two was enough for this special project. All was divided into the heavenly and earthly. The earthly was divided into dry land and water, and man was made in his image into male and female. The creation and man began as the history of two. That set the pattern, for when God began again and saved the world after the flood he had all the animals go into the ark two by two.
His plan for man was in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Just two covenants make up the whole of God's will for man. In the New Testament there are just two ordinances that Jesus left with the church-baptism and the Lord's Supper. They focus on the two key events by which Jesus saved us, which are the cross and the resurrection. We have just two elements in communion, which are the bread and the cup. There could have been more; a third or fourth item, but these two cover it all. Jesus summed up the ten commandments which were given on two tablets, and he reduced them to the two of loving God with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself. There are dozens of other twos running through the Bible, but we want to look at why two is such a precious number. The first characteristic of this small number is-
I. UNITY. v. 19.
Agree is a fascinating word in the Greek. It is sumphoneo, which is where we get the word symphony. In other words, these two are in perfect harmony, and they are making music together that pleases God. When the elder brother of the Prodigal came home he heard music. The Greek word is sumphonia. When Paul in I Cor. 7:5 tells Christian mates they are not to abstain from sex very long, and then only by mutual consent or agreement, the word he uses is sumphonos. When Paul in II Cor. 6:15 says, "What harmony is there between Christ and belial," the word for harmony is sumphonesis. There are still other words in this same family, and they all refer to being of one accord, or in full agreement and harmony with each other.
The word Jesus uses here is the one most often used in the New Testament for agreement. In Matt. 20 it is used twice to refer to an agreement as a contract between a land owner and the men he hired. Jesus uses it again when he says in Luke 5:36 that no one tears a patch out of a new garment to sew it into an old garment, for the new will not match the old. That is, sumphoneo-they will not agree with each other. They will clash and not be in harmony. Jesus had a sense of the fitting and what went together, and clashing new cloth and old cloth was not acceptable. In the realm of the material and the social there has to be harmony and agreement.
In Acts 15:15 James spoke up at the first Christian conference and said that the Gentiles coming into the church was in agreement with the prophets of the Old Testament, and he used the same word. The Old Testament and the New Testament are in harmony was his point. They do not clash by one saying that God loves the Gentiles and the other saying he doesn't. The Bible is a symphony because all parts harmonize and are in agreement.
I have labored this point to make it clear that just as the two testaments are the two witnesses that agree and confirm the message of God, so all it takes is two believers to agree and be in harmony to satisfy God, and move him to cooperative action on the part of this smallest of all possible small groups. It is not as soon as you get a hundred people to agree, or fifty in harmony, nor even ten, but just two will do. A two instrument symphony will be heard in the court of heaven, and God will listen with favor, for this is all it takes to please his ear. What an encouragement in a world which demands an orchestra and a choir to be considered a major event. Just two can get on stage by heavenly standards, and God will be an attentive audience.
Why is God so easily pleased by such a small group? For one thing, two is not a small group to God. He sees from a radical different perspective than we do. Keep in mind that God has existed from all eternity, and before he created anything he was an eternal small group within himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That small group of 3 Persons in the Godhead was the totality of all reality. God does not look down on two or three, for these were the numbers of infinity long before any other numbers even existed. These were the biggest numbers, and just because God has added multiplied trillions of numbers of things and beings since does not change the fact that the foundation numbers of all reality are two and three. God is one, but he is not solitary. God has never been alone, for he is a relational being within himself.
The unity of God is the basis of all reality. Jesus said, "The Father and I are one." In the incarnation God and man became one combined in Jesus, and so two in one or three in one becomes the key numbers of unity in God himself, and between God and man. The most profound theology revolves around the simple numbers of two and three. Do not look down on small numbers, for they are the foundation of all numbers. Charles Spurgeon was the giant of preachers of his day, and preached to 6000 people every Sunday. Big was his middle name, but when he preached on this text he made it clear that Jesus rejected the value system of men, and here proclaims all they consider essential as non-essential.
Numbers are essential to success says the world, but Jesus says not so. Two united in prayer can be as successful as 2000, for they can get an answer and God's approval. To despise a prayer meeting of two is to substitute man's value system for God's. Spurgeon said he prefers a larger number in prayer himself, but God is pleased with two. He said, "Two or three are mentioned, not to encourage absence, but to cheer the faithful few who do not forget the assembling of themselves together." One of the greatest church services and prayer meetings on record is that of Paul and Silas in a dungeon. God gave them a miracle, and the jailer and his whole family were saved. You don't need to get a mass together for a powerful revival, or evangelistic effort. Two united in God's will can do just fine.
Two can make a church as Spurgeon and many others point out. The husband and wife can be a church as they are one in unity to do God's will. Two brothers, or two sisters, or a brother and a sister can be a church. Two friends can be a church. Any two people who come together in unity in Christ can be a church, and Jesus will be there to confirm it. Big numbers are not essential to success. Spurgeon says again, "How soon the gate of mercy opens where two are knocking." I do not feel any need to get large groups praying for God's will. If just a few of us agree to pray, that is as big a claim on God's promise as we need to make. If it is not God's will a million praying will not make it so. If it is God's will, two is enough.
If God demanded a 100 people in unity before he would respond, that would cut off the vast majority of Christians all through history, and especially the early Christians who had to get two or three to meet in a cave, or in a house, or in prison like Paul and Silas. If the church could only exist as a large group, and only the large group could fulfill the plan of God, then the vast majority of Christians would never be of value in the kingdom of God. But since two or three are enough of a tool for God, all Christians have value to the kingdom. As Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses, and God gave them the victory, so the unity of two and three people all through history have won victories for God.
Spurgeon points out that the text eliminates the significance of place. To man, a successful event has to be in a significant place. It has to be in a Cathedral, coliseum, or community center. But if two or three is all it takes to get God's will done, place is non-essential. The car, the cellar, the prison cell-what's the difference? Any place is adequate if you take Jesus at his word.
Jesus, where'er thy people meet,
There they behold thy mercy seat.
Where'er they seek thee, thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.
As Spurgeon said, a family praying together in their home is just as important as a mass of people praying in church. There is no rank here as if two or three pastors would have a better prayer meeting, or two or three seminary professors, or two or three deacons. Two or three slaves in Christ are as much a church as two or three bishops. All of the things we are impressed with like numbers, buildings, and rank, are all dismissed by Jesus as non-essentials. The values that Jesus focuses on are unity and intimacy. These are what draw Him to a church, and where you draw Jesus you are a successful church.
Where two or three with sweet accord
Obedient to their sovereign Lord
Meet to recount his acts of grace,
And offer solemn prayer and praise,
There, says the Savior, will I be
Amid their little company;
To them unveil my smiling face,
And shed my glories around the place.
The second characteristic of high value to Christ in the small group of two or three is-
If you take the most intimate relationships of life and a associate them with a number, you discover the numbers are usually small. When you say marriage you think of two. If you say friend you think of two or three. Comrade, companion, partner all make you think of two as the most intimate of numbers. The best relationships of life are not those of nation to nation, or state to state, or community to community, or even group to group, although all of these are vital to a peaceful and enjoyable existence. Large group relations are vital, but they are not intimate, and adequate to meet the basic human need for intimacy. This can only be met by a one on one relationship with a mate or a friend.
We are made in the image of God, and that is why we have a need for intimacy. Intimacy is built into the very nature of God. He is an intimate being himself as he relates as a small group of three persons. He has a built in intimacy as a triune God. As he relates to man all through history, he does not relate to the masses, but communicates with Abraham or Moses face to face. He relates to the small group of the prophets. Jesus had his small group of the Apostles and his inner group of three. The one on one, or the two or three are not isolated incidents, but are the pattern of the entire Bible. The goal is always large numbers, for God loves the masses, and his goal is to reach the whole world, but the means is by the power and value of intimacy, and so the group of two or three.
The Greek word for come together in verse 20 where two or three come together is the word sonago, and is the word frequently used to describe the church in the New Testament. It is an assembly or gathering of people. It can be a large or small gathering, but when used of the church it is usually a small gathering. Jesus used the word most intimately when he said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem....how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing..." I don't know just how many chicks a mother hen can gather, but you get a picture of a small intimate group.
To qualify to be a synagogue you need ten men. That is a small number, and Judaism believed in the power and adequacy of a small number to worship, to learn, and to serve God. But just as Jesus reduced the ten commandments to two, so he reduced the essential size of the synagogue to two. This word for gathering together is the root of synagogue, and the church became the Christian synagogue, but with the new requirement of only two or three rather than ten. Two people can be an authentic New Testament church, and to require more is to reject Jesus as Lord of the church, for that is all he requires. These two or three can make valid judgments and pursue valid goals. They can pray valid prayers and offer valid worship.
In Acts 14:27 the church gathered together in Antioch to hear Paul's report. It is the same word sunago that is used. The same word is used of the church meeting in the house in Troas in Acts 20:8. In I Cor. 5:4 it is used of the assembly of the church in Corinth. It is used of the Apostles gathering together around Jesus. Any meeting of Christians is called a sunago, and in James 2:2 it is even called a synagogue. The point is that whenever Christians got together with a unity in Christ they were a church, even if it was only two or three people. The church gathered is to fill the void that may have been left by lack of a mother or father, or brother or sister, or close friend. The church is to provide the intimacy of family, and if the church fails to do that, it fails to be the church. It is not size that makes a church a failure. A church the size of two or three can be a tremendous success if it provides intimacy for that two or three.
Intimacy is based on unity. The two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus. They have a common loyalty to Christ as Lord. They agree on their commitments and goals that are Christ centered. This is the highest form of intimacy. Intimacy goes deeper and deeper the more two people have in common. If they love to collect stamps, that is great. They have a level of intimacy. If they also love to bowl together, and fish, or sew quilts, they are going deeper. If they want to live with each other and have children, that is the depth of intimacy that we call romantic love. But this is not the deepest intimacy. Romance and sex is only one aspect of intimacy. It is possible for non-married people to have a greater depth of intimacy than married people if they develop the many types of intimacy possible for two people.
You have, for example,
And the deepest of all, spiritual intimacy which is what you have when two or three meet in the name of Jesus. This is the ultimate in intimacy, because these people have in common the ultimate values and commitments.
If two people love Jesus and gather in his name, Jesus is there, for this is an intimate relationship, and has the potential of giving birth to thoughts and deeds that please God and fulfill his will. One of the signs of intimacy is mutual self-esteem. Two people who are intimate make each other feel good about themselves. They edify and encourage, and build up one another. This is the ministry of the church, and a group of two or three is best equipped to fulfill these goals. Jesus says to this intimate group that he will be there adding to their self-esteem, for Jesus is Lord of all will be present with them making them realize they are valuable to him and his purpose. The goal of Jesus is to build up and encourage his church, and he does this with his promise to be present in the smallest possible group where there is unity and intimacy.