We need to remember that when we study scripture, we are reading someone else's "mail". When writing, the author of the letter, being inspired by God, had one thing in mind as he was writing. We need to understand what the author intended to get through to the original audience so we can make applications to our own lives. This is where examining the context is important.
Whenever we approach Bible study, an important principle to keep in mind is "never read a Bible verse." We need to remember that the Bible was not originally given to us in verses as we have it today. It can become very easy for us to take a verse out of it's original context to make it say something it doesn't say. To protect ourselves from this, we need to not read just one Bible verse, but also what is before and after the passage, and we also need to make sure we interpret a passage so that it does not contradict other passages of scripture.
As we go through the following passages, we will put this principle into application. We will examine the original context of these passages which are often ripped out of context.
MATTHEW 18:20 - "FOR WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME, THERE AM I AMONG THEM”
This verse is used by many to suggest that in order to amplify our prayers or our experience of God in worship, we have to form a gathering of at least two or three.
It is important to note that the first word of this verse is ‘for’, which shows us that Jesus is either concluding His thoughts on a certain subject or saying something based on what came before. When examining what comes before, we see that this is the final part of a section about dealing with sin within a church or among individual Christians. If a brother were to sin against them, they were to go to their brother in private to tell them the wrong they have done (making a judgment) and to try to bring them to repentance. If they would not listen to you, then you were to take one or two others with you to confront the brother. It is on this use of the phrase “two or three” that Jesus picks up on and repeats in verse 20 when he says, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." What Jesus is saying in this verse is that when two or three come together in making a judgment about a brother who is in sin and rebellion against God, Jesus is there with them in that judgment. He is not talking about either prayer or worship in this text, but making judgments and church discipline.
The way the passage is misused also makes it sound like Jesus is not among us if we are alone; that we must be in an assembly of at least two or three people to be heard by God. This contradicts other Bible passages which show that Jesus is always with His people and passages where we are commanded to pray alone.
"AND WE KNOW THAT GOD CAUSES ALL THINGS TO WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD..." (ROMANS 8:28).
Usually when this verse is quoted, the whole verse is not even quoted. This passage is often used to encourage someone (believer or not) who’s going through a tough time and to remind them that it will eventually work out for something good in their life; that God has some good end in mind. For instance, you lost your job because God has a much better job lined up for you. You got into a car wreck because you have a much better car in your future. Your marriage engagement was ended because God has a much better person planned for you in the future.
When being true to the contextual position of the text, we understand that the passage first deals with those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes. That’s a very important distinction because it’s not for everyone. The promise of this passage is for Christians ONLY.
Secondly, the “good” of which Paul speaks has nothing to do with our comfort and everything to do with our ultimate conformity in Christ. So, rather than the good meaning the flipping of our circumstances from bad to good, here it means bringing us to glory through a process of being conformed to the image of Christ, which entails going through trials and suffering.
Verses 16-17 of this chapter says, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." This is the "good" that is being referred to in verse 28: being glorified with Jesus. God allows His people to endure suffering because of the good it works in us. Just as Jesus suffered before He entered glory, so also do His people!