Greet one another with a holy kiss
If someone was to tell you every day, multiple times a day, that you were an extremely handsome man or beautiful woman, that repeated compliment would do wonders for how you viewed yourself. If someone was to tell you the opposite, that you were extremely ugly, you would become insecure about your appearance. You might even fall into great depression.
Something repeated often enough, loudly enough, can become truth.
Now think about how many times over the past two months you have heard the importance of social distancing extolled. Has that had an effect on society? No doubt about it. Has it had an effect on you? How could it not?
Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating carelessness, and I do believe that we should take societal steps to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus among us. I myself have deliberately avoided shaking hands with folks during this historically unique time. I am practicing “social distancing” myself when out and about, and I think we all should.
In the New Testament, believers in Jesus Christ are commanded several times to express their real affection for other believers in physical, fraternal ways. One such command shows up in 1 Cor 16:20b:
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
That command is not only found in 1 Corinthians. It shows up a total of five different times in the New Testament. The other four are Rom 16:16; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; and 1 Pet 5:14. You might want to look those up and just look at them.
In full disclosure, I don’t think these passages mean we must necessarily give one another a kiss. This command is suited to 1st century culture.
Yet the command still means something to us and our culture. We fail as followers of Christ if we do not obey the right application of his Word to our lives.
What does the “holy kiss” mean for us? It means first that we must truly love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Think Rom 12:9a: Let love be genuine. We are to have an inward love for one another in Christ that is both real and compassionate. These are holy kisses.
The holy kiss also means for us that we must love each other outwardly and physically. Everyone appreciates physical touch. As infants, we thrived upon our mother’s touch or our father carrying us. Those of you who have lost loved ones would love to hold the hand of your departed family. COVID-19 must not and cannot abolish friendly and affectionate contact. We still need brotherly and sisterly touches. Indeed, this is why Christ through his apostles commanded them. Today, we use handshakes and hugs to greet within our families. For that reason, they fit well in church.
Brothers and sisters, your Lord Jesus wants you to do this.
Every Christian needs this. He needs someone to come up to them each week, look them in the eye, and, touch them with a filial greeting. She needs an embrace or handshake. I believe this is how we obey the Scriptures today.
By the way, the command of the holy kiss also means for us that it is absolutely necessary that we must be physically present with one another (for physical presence necessitates a physical greeting).
For now, I believe we should submit to the counsel of our governing authorities and maintain a separation of 6 feet when we see each other. But we should, as soon as we can, get back to giving each other warm, brotherly-love greetings.
Here’s the bottom line: I am aware that you’ve been bombarded with warnings about touching others. You cannot let these dire and fearful warnings allow you to become un-Christian in your thinking, especially when we get to the other side of this viral outbreak. As Christians, we must protect ourselves from imbibing the thinking that friendly, physical contact is the new taboo.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).