Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “one another” appears over ninety times and is associated with over thirty-five different verbs, which identify activities in which Christians are to be engaged as part of the body of believers. Implicit in these “one another” passages is the expectation of community. Over the past few weeks, we have been investigating some of these “one another” instructions in an effort to identify our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. As we continue this series, we turn our attention to the instruction to “greet one another.”
Five times in the New Testament, Christians are instructed to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:26) or “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14). Most of the time we ignore this instruction because we consider it to be culturally specific to the first century or because we consider it to be an insignificant instruction given to the original readers. However, there may be something we can learn from it.
In particular, the instruction to “greet one another with a holy kiss” teaches us that the church should be a place where people feel welcome. This is because a “kiss” in the New Testament was a gesture that symbolized acceptance, appreciation, and intimate relationships. For example, when the father kissed the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), he was demonstrating his acceptance of the wayward son back into the family. When Jesus told the Pharisee, in whose house He dined, that “You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she,” referring to a sinful woman who anointed His feet, “has not ceased to kiss my feet” (Luke 7:45), he was indicating that the sinful woman demonstrated her appreciation of Jesus and the Pharisee did not. When Jesus rhetorically asked Judas, “would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss” (Luke 22:48), He was acknowledging the irony of such an intimate act being utilized for such an evil purpose.
So, the ultimate takeaway of the “greet one another with a holy kiss” instruction is not the activity of kissing but the activity of greeting. Welcoming one another is important. In fact, Paul instructed Christians in Romans 15:17 to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” I believe his point was that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are expected to express and experience welcoming relationships based on our unity in Christ, and, a welcoming attitude will manifest itself in the way we communicate with each other. Therefore, since Christians are instructed to “welcome one another,” we should seek to become “greater greeters,” as one preacher said. Why? Because the way we greet one another communicates our acceptance of one another, our appreciation of one another, and our shared intimacy with one another.
However, you may be wondering how we become greater greeters. I think Paul’s final comments to the church in Rome demonstrates this well. In Romans 16:1-6, Paul shows us how to greet our brothers and sisters in Christ effectively so that they feel accepted, appreciated, and intimately connected to us. From this passage, there are three practical principles worth noting that can improve our ability to “welcome one another.”
- First, we learn that welcoming others means that people are personally addressed. In sixteen verses, Paul mentioned twenty-seven people by name. What is interesting is that Paul knew many of the Christians at the church in Rome despite the fact that, as far as we know, he had not yet traveled to Rome. Despite not having met this congregation he knew many of its members because he developed relationships with them during his travels. Something to be gleaned from Paul’s naming of these Christians is the fact that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should not be strangers to one another. We need to know each other, and that means we need to invest time with each other. Therefore, if you want to become a greater greeter then you need to get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Second, we learn that welcoming others means that we emphasize that which unites us rather than that which divides us. Notice that the list of people named by Paul includes references to both men and women, which indicates that there was gender diversity in Rome. It also includes references to both Jews and Gentiles, which indicates that there was ethnic diversity in Rome. Additionally, the list included references to both individuals of high social standing (e.g. those wealthy enough to own homes in which the church could meet) and individuals of low social standing (e.g. those who were former prisoners), which indicates that there was socio-economic diversity in Rome. Despite all of this diversity, Paul emphasized everyone’s unity “in Christ” or “in the Lord” (16:2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). The point is that the goal of every Christian is to become like Christ not like me; therefore, we should expect there to be differences in the makeup of the people in the church, but unity among the people in the church because of our common bond in Christ.
- Finally, we learn that welcoming others means that love is tangibly expressed. Seventeen times in this chapter, Paul verbally expressed his appreciation of these individuals by using specific titles and descriptions. For example, Paul referred to Phoebe as a “servant of the church” (16:1). Then, Paul called Priscilla and Aquilla “fellow workers” and indicated that they “risked their necks for [his] life” (16:4). Additionally, he referred to Andronicus and Junia as his “kinsmen” and “fellow prisoners” (16:7). Through such descriptions and titles, Paul verbally honored these Christians and expressed his deep appreciation for their service in the kingdom. In effect, Paul followed his own instructions from Romans 12:10 where he said: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
A popular 1980s television show about a bar in Boston had a theme song which said, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.” While the world expects such an establishment to be the place where we find our sense of belonging, Scripture expects the church to be the place where we find our sense of belonging. The expectation presented in Scripture is that the church is supposed to be the community in which everybody knows your name. Are we as members of the Lord’s body creating an atmosphere where every believer feels welcomed? Are we as members of the Lord’s body effectively and frequently communicating our appreciation of and affection for others in God’s family? Are we as members of the Lord’s body developing intimate relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ? If not, then we may need to reconsider how we greet one another.