In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of this month, Jesus instructs his disciples, so the church, on how to resolve disputes within the fellowship, not on minor personal matters but presumably serious matter of Christian doctrine. On the basis of Old Testament practice, such is to be settled privately; then, if unsuccessful, with intervention of two reputable witnesses; finally, when all this fails, by a council of the whole Church, up to the point of banishment from its fellowship. Paul in Romans 12 clarifies just how close, tight knit, exclusive the early Church was: those who firmly believed were called “saints”, “holy ones”, “brothers and sisters” in Christ Jesus; those who didn’t were cast out, relegated, as he says in our primary reading, to the realm of sinners. Clearly, fellowship in his Name was a rich possession, not to be trifled with. To the extent that it’s conducted truly in his Name, says Jesus, “I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Indeed, he implies, faith in him deepens fellowship and advances the work of His Church. Contrary to modern, secular habits, spiritual discipline in and for him yields spiritual results!
Of great significance, too, is the way the mentioned principle of discipline broadens out into the practice of Christian discipleship. Just before his promise of presence, our Lord qualifies such, saying that such occurs “where two or three are gathered in my Name”. This declares, quite emphatically, both the conditions and consequences of true discipleship. One who follows him must act always in His Name; that is, seek to know His mind, labor to do His will, work to establish His rule in every human endeavor. Furthermore, when He declares “I am in [your] midst”, he is declaring that he’s with His followers in the fullness of the Spirit He gave to His Church; He’s thereby able to direct them effectively in the way they should go; He’s prepared to empower them in every cause they are engaged in His Name. Not only so, but Matthew ends his account by reporting Jesus final words before sending His disciples out in mission in His behalf: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (28:20).