“So, how many did we have here today?” The question is asked in regard to the number of attendees at the lunchtime Bible study. “We had one, eighty-one,” is the response shouted back. What?! Everyone can obviously see that there were not over 100 people at the Bible study! There are barely 181 chairs even set up in the room, and less than half of the chairs are filled! This guy can’t count!
An explanation is then provided for the count. “It was not stated that we had one hundred, eighty-one people here. But, we had one, eighty-one. There are 81 persons in the room. Plus, the Lord is here! And, since ‘the LORD is one’ and He comes first, we had One, eighty-one today.” Tricky! Tricky! Leave it up to a preacher to count like that!
While that is a silly way to count those in attendance, the truth is that the Bible teaches us to “count” those who are present in that fashion. “What? You can’t be serious!”
When Jesus was speaking about the matter of church discipline and the responsibility to “tell it to the church” and for the church to take collective action, He concluded His comments by laying out this principle, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:15-20). Jesus affirmed that when believers are “gathered together” by His authority to do exactly as He wills us to do, He is there. If there are three persons, then the count is One (Jesus), three. Or you could write it 1(3).
Near the end of the New Testament, the opposite viewpoint of this “counting method” is affirmed. The apostle John wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son…” (2 John 9-10). Contrast this with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18. Wherever two or three are gathered together, but are gathered to teach, to hear, to adhere to, to abide in a doctrine other than the doctrine of Christ, the Lord is not there. If there are three persons present, then the count is Zero (no Jesus), three. Or you could write it 0(3).
The first number is the one that matters. The presence of the Lord is the ONE that matters! But, the Lord is only present if the group of Christians is (1) gathered to DO His will and (2) gathered to TEACH and ABIDE in His doctrine. If both of those are true, the ONE Lord is there. But, if either of them is not true, the Lord is NOT there. In mathematics, 1(3) still equals 3. But, 0(3) equals 0. Think about that! If a group does not teach His doctrine, abide in His doctrine and practice His doctrine, then the Lord (the ONE that matters) is not present! We need to count the way He counts!