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In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus says:

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

What does Jesus mean?

From a surface understanding, it sounds like any prayer request will be granted if two people agree? However, I know from experience that is not the case - Bob and Sue agree that a new car would be a good thing, but they do not get one.

How should this directive be applied?

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Mark 11:14-26 also applies to this. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 15:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Another verse that supports this concept:

Mark 11:24 (NASB)
Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

Why doesn't this work?

Let's look at things a bit more in context (of Mark):

Mark 11:22-24 (NASB)
22 And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

It's very clear that God will answer any prayer you have. However, if you don't have faith, your prayers won't be answered.

Furthermore, we should pray continuously for something we want! We see this in the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. The widow constantly bothers the judge and he finally relents even though he is neither godly nor just. He basically says "Fine, you can have it, go away."

Finally, we need to make sure that we're asking for the right motives. James 4:1-3 shows that if we're asking for things for our own earthly pleasure, then that's the wrong motive. Like Jesus, we should try to keep God's will in mind when we pray for something.

So, why doesn't it always work to pray for something?

Here seem to be the biblical criteria:

  1. You must have more than one person agreeing on the need
  2. You must believe that it will be granted
  3. You must pray continually about it and make your prayers constant until it is granted
  4. You must ask with the right motives

Then, you will be able to move mountains.

A word study

This isn't really necessary for the answer (once I re-read the question), but I'd already written it up, so I'll include it here:

This gets a bit more interesting in the Greek.

Matthew 18:19 in Greek Interlinear

We see

Again, [I-am-saying] [to-you] that [if-ever] two [of you] [should-be-agreeing] on the earth concerning [any/every] [practice/matter] which [if-ever] [theys-shoud-be-requesting] [it-shall-be-becoming] [to-them] beside the father [of-me] [the-one] in heavens

The translation in question "anything" actually comes from two words: pantos [any/every] and pragmatos [practice/matter].

The word pantos is pretty self-explanatory, if you simply accept that it means "each thing, all, or every". The word pragmatos is a bit more interesting, though:

Vines lexicon shows:

From the root pragma (Strong / Vines entry)
1. that which has been done, a deed, an accomplished fact
2. what is done or being accomplished
a. spec. business, a commercial transaction
3. a matter, question, affair

So, in essence, the verse is saying that if ever two of you agree on the earth about any practice, every deed, any question that they are requesting, it will be given.

Word definition summary

Essentially, if two or more people agree to ask for any deed to be done or any question to be answered, God will do it.

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Your two part answer is interesting. The first part (I paraphrase) is: but there are more conditions Jesus doesn't mention here. So why not? My question was that apparently anything doesn't literally mean anything here (again, clumsy phrasing). The second part, about the meaning of "anything" is interesting but doesn't seem to me to add anything, because it simply confirms the Biblical translation. – Wikis Oct 4 '11 at 18:42
Yes, the second part really just answers the title question rather than the question text. I wrote that before I fully read and understood the question. Secondly, Jesus doesn't mention those other things because he wasn't trying to make a complete list of problems with prayer. In fact, none of those passages were (James, Mark, Matthew). They were just addressing one aspect that someone was screwing up. It's like saying you need to change your oil in order for your car to keep running. That's clearly not the only thing that needs done. It just refers to the immediate need. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 18:48
Yes, great reply. I'll give this some thought, thanks. – Wikis Oct 4 '11 at 18:57
@Richard - Surely the conditions you list have been met by the loved ones of people imprisoned and later killed by dictators throughout the ages. So this then raises the question: is this an example of the Bible being in error? Or is the interpretation incorrect somewhere? (Or are the conditions essentially impossible to meet, e.g. because God's will is already set, and only if you happened to guess it and pray accordingly will things unfold the way you wished?) – Rex Kerr Oct 4 '11 at 21:17

The difficulty is when you take a couple of quotes out of context and try to make sense of them.

So, I am using verses from Matthew 18 NIV.

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

So, this is about someone that has sinned, so, in verse 16 you take 1 or 2 people with you. These are the two or three discussed in verse 19 and 20, so it is people from within the church, but not the church, nor even leaders in the church.

And it is dealing with the church discipline, and if these people are in agreement then God is with them.

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While this is true for this case, we can see in Mark 11:14-26 that anything we ask will be given. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 15:46
@Richard James 4:1-3 points out that if our motives are wrong, we won't get what we ask for. – jimreed Oct 4 '11 at 15:55
@jimreed Good call. I'll add that to my answer. (Although Luke still shows that anything we ask will be given.) – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 15:56
Are you saying that these are two people who were in dispute, or the witnesses? That still doesn't answer the anything part. What is God promising in this instance? – Wikis Oct 4 '11 at 18:36
@Wikis - These are witnesses, and however the groups wants to discipline, God is with them. – James Black Oct 4 '11 at 19:48

It seems the "anything" is to apply to the binding and loosing. Those two or three, or more, who have come and gathered in agreement to discipline the unrepentant person, they are asking that in accordance with their conclusion, that person is to be bound, removed from fellowship.

Understanding that, you then have to speculate what is God's part in this binding. We see the earthly binding results in the unrepentant party being treated as if they were not a brother or sister, no longer to be seen as a part of the church until they repent, and if they do so, they should be forgiven as it is clarified in verses 22-23.

My best assumption is that what God will do in the binding is 1), agree with their judgement and 2), be working upon the unbeliever to restore them back to the church by that person being brought to repentance, which may require further disciplining out in the world, as we see with the prodigal son who is brought to a lowly state before turning back, or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:5, that handing them over to Satan in order that they can be eventually restored.

If the person repents, they will be loosed.

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Welcome Matt! This answer could be improved by citing sources, like commentaries or theologians who agree with you, so that we better understand which types of Christians interpret the passage the way you are, but still, this is a good effort. Thanks! If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel Sep 17 at 0:46
@Nathaniel-Thanks for the welcome, I don't have any sources, my interpretation was just based on reading those verses within the larger context of Matthew 18. I'll be sure to credit sources if used in future answers. Thanks. – Matt Clark Sep 18 at 2:19

It helps to have the context of the previous verse:

18 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.

This makes it clear that he's talking to the Apostles here (see Matthew 16:19) and not to the disciples in general. It's because of the authority to bind in heaven what they bind on earth and loose in heaven what they loose on earth that they can make requests of God and have them granted.

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No, I don't think so because, in the further context of verse 17‌​, He is talking about the church. – Wikis Oct 4 '11 at 15:00
I agree with Wikis' view. Besides, are you, Mason Wheeler, saying that the Apostles are always getting all their prayers answered? Are you limiting your Apostles to the period of Acts, or later as well? – Steve Jun 12 '13 at 4:43

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