Amen. Matthew chapter 18 is our reading, Matthew chapter 18. As I intimated in the announcements: in the week that lies ahead, tomorrow night at eight o'clock, we will enter perhaps what is the most important week in the life of this church - because it's the week whereby we store up, in the eyes of God, preparation for the year that lies ahead - the week of prayer. Now I want to think of that this morning from this passage of Scripture, from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and His teaching in Matthew chapter 18.
Beginning to read at verse 15, and these are the words of our Lord: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them".
The church and prayer - I wonder have you ever pondered what is the purpose of a week of prayer? We could narrow that down even further and say: what is the purpose to a day of prayer, or what is the purpose of the prayer meeting that we have weekly here within the life of the assembly? Many have the mentality, I think maybe consciously: 'If I pray at home, why do I need to pray in the church?'. I think it's probably the reverse, that if you're praying in the church you will be praying at home, and if you're not in the church praying the likelihood is you're not praying at home. But is it not enough to have a personal prayer life? Is it not enough to have your quiet time at home? I have known in the past, approaching people over their lack of attendance at the prayer meeting and indeed to all of the meetings, having the reply from them: 'Well, I decided I would just have a little quiet time with the Lord here at home myself'.
That sounds ever so spiritual, and we may look at that and say: 'Well, perhaps they have a point, maybe that's what they needed at that specific time'. Is there anything different between personal prayer, personal devotions in your life, and the prayer meeting and the life of prayer within the assembly? I believe there is, and I would like to lay down for you a thesis this morning, a proposition, that the declension of spiritual power in the church can be traced to the demise of prayer gatherings. I deliberately don't say 'prayer meeting', because we get the mentality that as long as you're along on a Thursday night from eight until nine the Lord will bless the church. That's not what I'm talking about - a specific meeting - but the demise of spiritual power within the church today can be traced to the demise of prayer gatherings within the church.
Now if you look at verse 15 for a moment, through to verse 17, you will see a specific case that the Lord Jesus is speaking of. This is a foundational passage to do with church discipline and the way we should behave towards those who will not abide by the ruling of the church, and indeed the ruling of the elders. The Lord is giving a specific case here about someone who will not walk in ways that are pleasing to the Lord. But in verses 18 to 20 I believe the Lord gives us not a specific case, but a general principle that outflows from that specific case. Verses 18 to 20 are the foundation of why we discipline within the church.
The procedures that we find in verses 15 to 17 are simply this: that if someone has anything against you - and I would go further to say that if you have anything against them - you are to go to your brother, you're to sort it out between you and them. If they do not hear you, the Lord Jesus says you're to go with two or three other brethren and approach them again in front of them - in the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter of truth shall be established. If they'll not hear you then, you're duty bound to bring it to the church. If, after that, the person will not listen to the church - and mark you well that these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ - they are to be counted as a publican and a Gentile. One author I was reading this week decided that these were not the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, they couldn't be. He could not say such harsh things! Well, you either believe the Bible or you don't, and we choose to believe the Bible here in the Iron Hall, and that's why we practice these truths found in this passage.
But the Lord goes further than this, for in verses 18 to 20 He lays down the principle of why we do this. There is a reason why you follow spiritual church discipline within the local assembly. Indeed, the Lord Jesus begins to outline what that is to us by beginning in these words, verse 18: 'Verily I say unto you'. 'You do this because this is true. What I am about to tell you is a true principle that is bound up within church discipline'. Now I do not believe that the Lord was meaning that these spiritual principles that I am about to lay down to you are only used when you discipline someone in the church, but rather these principles can be implemented in more than one way. Indeed, I believe that you can see from these principles what the importance of the prayer ministry of the church really is today in our generation and in our assembly.
Now, prayer is a matter of control, isn't it? We want God to be in control. If we were asking the question: 'Who is in control?', with regards to prayer, we probably would side on the area that God is in control. But you know, if you look at this passage of scripture in verse 18 - look at it with me - the Lord says, and mark please that I want to keep to the text not putting in any of my own suppositions or my own pet doctrines, I want to see what the Lord has to say: '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'. Now mark the direction that the Lord is speaking of, He is saying that the earth governs heaven! In this specific realm - the one case, individually, of church discipline, and then the principle on the whole of the prayer life of the church - the Lord is saying that where this is concerned the earth governs heaven.
Now look at the verse, because you'll see that there is action on earth before there is action taken in heaven. 'Whatsoever you bind on earth then shall be bound in heaven...whatsoever you loose on earth shall then be loosed in heaven'. Here is a principle, that whatever things on the earth oppose God and reject God's rule and reign and sovereignty must be bound, whatever things on earth agree with God - i.e. the spiritual truths held within the church - they must be released in order that God's glory may be proclaimed. But the point of the Lord is this: all of these things, the loosing and the binding, begins on earth. So please see that: the earth governs heaven.
Now, maybe you find that difficult to believe, so I want to take a little bit of time over this - I think it's fundamental for the week of prayer that lies ahead of us. This is a principle that you find in the Old Testament Scriptures, turn with me to Exodus chapter 17 beginning to read at verse 9: 'And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed'. Now note that: 'It came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed'. That is the principle of God's working. Of course, in heaven, the issue was decided with God already in the sense that God wanted Israel to win - of course God wanted Israel to win! But before it could actually happen and Israel could have the victory, that matter had to be decided by Moses. In heaven, God had a desire, but God was not prepared to implement that desire. You see it as clearly as your eye can see, that if Moses didn't hold up his hands Amalek would win - isn't that right? Heaven, at this moment, was being governed by earth.
If you turn to Ezekiel, another text in the Old Testament where this principle is enshrined, Ezekiel chapter 36 - and remember we're asking the question: who is in control? Ezekiel 36 and verse 37, these are the words of the Lord God: 'Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock'. 'I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock'. You might look at that and say: 'God's wanting to increase the children of Israel', and you think to yourself: 'Well, why dosen't He just do it? I mean, if He's the Almighty God, and if He wants to do this for them, why doesn't He just do it then?'. I'll tell you why He doesn't just do it then, because He has a principle of working, and His word declares this: if He is inquired of the people, He will do it. If He isn't inquired of the people, He will not do it!
The foundational, fundamental principle concerning prayer here in the Old Testament in these two verses is: God wants earth to govern heaven. It's not the fact that He has to have that, it's that He wants it, it is His desire! Now, lest you don't believe me, turn to Isaiah chapter 45 finally in the Old Testament, before we go back to Matthew 18. Isaiah chapter 45 and verse 11: 'Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me'. 'Concerning the works of my hands command ye me' - that's a staggering statement, isn't it? In fact, if it wasn't there we would probably think it was heresy if a man stood up on a platform and said that we can command God to do something. We know that we should never, as we come into the presence of the Lord, be presumptuous with God - of course we ought not to be presumptuous! We should never be rude or arrogantly demanding to Almighty God, we must be humble and remember who it is we're coming to. But let us say this: the Lord gives us the words here, 'Command ye me according to the works of my hands'. Why does He say it? This is why: because He wants earth to govern heaven.
Now we do not mean that we can make God do what He doesn't want to do, that is not what we are saying. But rather, when God commands us to command Him, He wants us to ask Him to do what He desires to do. Those of us who have been Christians for years must know that this is the foundation of prayer. Prayer is to know the will of God, to come to the throne of God, and then through prayer to ask God for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayer - is it not coming simply to the Lord and saying: 'Lord, we want You to do this'? Is that not what prayer is? 'Lord, we want You to do this, we are determined that You do it. Lord, You cannot but do it, because it is Your will!'.
God's work in this dispensation is done upon this ground. Of course heaven desires to do, heaven has a desire, heaven has a will, but heaven will not do its will until earth does it first! The word of the Lord Jesus is: 'Whatsoever ye bind on earth' - first - 'shall be bound in heaven...whatsoever ye loose on earth' - first - 'shall be loosed in heaven'. God wills to have the earth govern heaven. Who is in control? Of course, in a general sense, God is in control - but in the realm of prayer, can I say, we are in control!
Secondly, I want to ask: how then does this control work? How does it work? The Lord says in verse 19: '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. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst'. How does it work? Well, the Lord tells us, He enshrines for us this fundamental principle that the church of Jesus Christ stands on earth for the will of God. The church is here for the will of God. That means that if the church fails to rise to do the will of God, the will of God will be restricted on earth. God wills to do whatever He desires to do through the church, not through individual believers, but through the church. What a position the church has before God! What a position of importance God has given it! The way in which He manifests Himself today in power and in His will is through the church of Jesus Christ, through the body of Christ.
That must mean that the church, therefore, must be under the authority and under the subjection of God. This is what I've been pushing at from the beginning of my message: we should not relegate the church to meetings of people who trust in Christ. That's an awful poverty to give the church! The church is much more than this, it's more than a mere meeting, it's more than a mere get-together and sing-song and little meditation around the word of God. Oh yes, we are a group of sinners, we've been saved by grace, we've been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God - but we have been a people and are a people committed to God's hand. We are to be given gladly over to God to accept His will, to do His will, and to stand on earth to maintain God's testimony among men. He must have our will in harmony with His.
How does this control take place? Who's in control? The church is in control in the realm of prayer. How does this control take place? We must be in harmony. The Lord says: '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'. That is the way that God works today, He has principles, He has laws that He has set down in which He works. God doesn't overwhelm us - get that out of your head! If you don't want to follow God, He's not going to make you! Not a bit of it! But God longs from His heart of love to have harmony with us, to be one with us, and God will not ignore your will if it's against Him. If the will on earth is against heaven, God will not break it down and work independently of the church. He must have our will in harmony with His.
An illustration of that can be found again in the Old Testament in Psalm 78 and verse 41, where the children of Israel were to enter into the promised land. Of course they would not enter in, they refused to enter in in their stubbornness. The Psalmist comments on it, and says: 'Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel'. Earth governs heaven! Now, let's pause for a moment because this astounds me - I can limit the Holy One of Israel! How does this control work? It works through the church. Now please grasp hold of this: the prayer ministry of the church is the way that God brings His will among men on the earth. I'm not just talking about worship prayer, I'm not talking about simply devotional prayer, I'm talking about when the people of God, as the assembly of God, come together - the Lord is teaching that they bring down to earth the will of God that is in heaven.
It happens by prayer! I know that for some prayer is a small thing, it's an insignificant non-essential thing, but let me say that prayer is a work - and it's the greatest work that you can do! It's a better work than evangelism, it's a better work than preaching. Prayer is the work that is foundational to evangelism and foundational to preaching. It is a work, and let me say it is the work, of the church on the earth today. Prayer is the church coming to God and saying: 'Lord, we want Your will. Lord, we know Your will, we want Your will, we're prepared to open our mouths and ask for Your will'. If this is the church's ministry and she is not fulfilling it today, the church will not be much use on earth.
My friends, there are three things laid down here and I want us to take them up in the week that lies ahead and indeed in the future of the Iron Hall, and use them to bring down to earth the will of heaven. Three ways in which we must be in harmony. The first is in verse 18, we must be agreeing with God. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven - God chooses not just to do what He desires, but rather He does it through the church. So what does God do? He puts Himself in the church, and the manifestation of God in the church will only be seen as to how our lives are in harmony with Him.
Have you got that? Let me give you an illustration. You've got a reservoir, say Silent Valley, and all of the water, tonnes of water in that reservoir. The water travels through the pipes and then goes into your home and goes into your sink and into the tap, you open the tap and the water comes out. But the amount of water that you will have will relate specifically to the diameter of the pipe that is running to your tap into your sink - isn't that right? The capacity of God within the church being manifested is specifically, directly, correlated and related to the capacity of the church to hold it. The capacity of the church to hold it is the prayer ministry of the church. It's very simple: the more of God you want, the more of prayer you need. If God is to work in the church we must pray according to His will, but the more we pray the more we will have God's will among us.
Let me illustrate it again through our lovely Lord Jesus. Let's think about this for a moment: when God wanted to manifest Himself in the flesh He came as the Lord Jesus Christ, and we know that His manifestation was as large as the capacity of our Lord Jesus. Isn't that right? Listen to Paul in Colossians: 'For it pleased the Father that in him', Christ, 'should all fullness dwell...for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily'. The manifestation of God in Christ was great because of the capacity of Christ to manifest it! My friend, God's presence in the world today is limited only by the capacity of the church to pray for it. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that God is not Almighty, but this is the way that God chooses to work.
I'll prove it to you - look at the specific case in verses 15 to 18 that the Lord gives, this item of church discipline. If a man will not listen to his brother, if then when two or three come with this man offended, and bring the case before him, and they still don't listen, and then it's brought before the church, and the offended or rebellious person still doesn't listen - the Lord says that to be counted as a publican or Gentile, and He goes as far as to say: 'When you count him as a Gentile and a publican, and then when you pray that he'll be delivered over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved on the last day, I will bind that in heaven when you bind it on earth'.
Let us not underestimate these words. This is not just a principle for church discipline, but I believe it's a principle as we come to God in every area of prayer as the assembly. If God encounters difficulty in this world in bringing His will today, it is because the church is not able to accomplish it. We come to God not asking what we want, but what He wants! We need to agree with God, verse 18.
The second thing we need harmony in is agreeing with each other. Look at verse 19: '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'. Now this is not simply agreeing on asking for one specific thing, that's not what that verse means - that if you want a certain person to be saved, and I happen to want that same person to be saved, if we agree on that one thing it'll be done. The Lord is speaking here of something much more than this, He is speaking of oneness of spirit. 'If you, two of you, agree together in your spirit, and indeed in harmony with the Holy Spirit that binds together the body of Christ - that oneness of spirit will come to Me, and ask anything, indeed ask everything, and all your desires will be given you'. Don't think it's the one thing you're asking - 'if two of you shall agree together'.
My friend, if we need anything today it's harmony in the Holy Spirit - for when that happens we'll not ask what I want, and what you want, and your specific desire, and what you would long for to happen in the Iron Hall. If we are in the Holy Spirit, our desires - Romans 6 - are put to death and buried. We are given the desires of Christ, and we ask for His desires - there'll be no bickering, there'll be no fighting about silly nonsense - but we will be coming to God, upon the will God, as the church of God, and we will see His will implemented in the earth! That will not happen until our flesh dies and until we are all asking it together.
Let me give you an illustration: two men could pray for one man who is not saved - I mean, how many of us don't want people to be saved? I would say there's very few of us, if any of us! So why aren't they being saved? You see, two men can agree on people being saved, but they could be looking daggers at one another across the church! They're not agreeing! You have to be in harmony with the Holy Spirit, and asking everything, God will do it.
There's something to be done before praying, and that is dealing with our flesh. Watchman Nee says this: 'Many matters are piled up in heaven, many transactions remain undone, simply because God is not able to find an outlet on earth. The degree of God's working in the church today is governed by the degree of prayer in the church. The manifestation of God's power may not exceed the prayer of the church'. Listen to that: 'The manifestation of God's power may not exceed the prayer of the church'. This can't be done by an individual, it takes two of you. This is something specific - why is it? You're agreeing with God, you're agreeing with each other, and finally - as we close - you're agreeing on our gathering.
Verse 20: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst'. Why does the earth govern heaven? Maybe you're saying: 'David, you're attributing far too much to men today' - well, I'm not, because the Lord says it. But why does it happen? Why does the earth govern heaven? I'll tell you why: because of the presence of the Lord. When two of us or three of us meet together in His name - and that means call together in His name, not of ourselves as this denomination, that denomination, or the Iron Hall, but as we are called not to ourselves but to the Lord - there's power. Can I ask you: why do you come to the meeting? Why are you going to come this week to the week of prayer? Is it to fulfil an obligation? Is it because somebody will talk about you? You think you should be there and you're not there? My friend, it must be to gather to the name of the Lord Jesus, for if we are agreeing with God; if we are in harmony in the Spirit with one another, nothing hindering our prayers; and then if we recognise that we are meeting to the Lord and it is the power of the Lord as two or three of us are gathered together in His name - God's will will be wrought on earth! 'There am I in the midst' - how could anything fail if He is in the midst?
Earth governs heaven. As we come to prayer this week, and the rest of the year, let us keep that in mind and in our hearts as we implore God: 'Command ye me concerning my will'. Let's bow our heads together. Can I ask you individually, why some of you don't come to our prayer meeting? Why do you not come? Will you be at the week of prayer? But more important than all of that, will you be in harmony with us? That must be dealt with first - friends, will we believe the Lord Jesus Christ and His word? Will we take the field, and as earth will we govern heaven and bring down His will among men?
Our Father, we pray that we will be found in such a place - in harmony with the Holy Spirit, and that will mean being in harmony with one another, that we will be vessels meet for the Master's use, and clean enough and pure enough and humble enough to be used to implement Your will in the church in these evil days. Lord, make this house a house of prayer, make us a people that will seek Thy face with all our hearts, and allow us in the days that lie ahead to see with our eyes the blessing that You would have in Your heart for us. Let us see it, Lord, as we pray to Thee for it, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Church And Prayer" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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