A rather legalistic Seminary student wanted to have a scriptural basis for everything he did. When he started falling in love he wanted to kiss her, but he just couldn’t find a scripture chapter and verse that seemed to make him feel right about giving her that kiss. So, true to his conscience, he would simply walk her to the dormitory each night, look at her longingly, and then say “Good night.” This went on for several weeks, until he came upon the passage in Romans that says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Sadly, after talking to his Bible teacher he realized that the passage dealt more with a church setting than with a dating situation. So he continued to wish her “Good night” after each date. One evening he walked her to the dormitory and once again started to bid her, “Good night.” But as he did, she grabbed him, pulled him toward her, and planted a 10-second kiss right on his lips. At the end of the kiss, the Seminary student gasped for air, and stammered, “Bible verse, Bible verse.”
The girl grabbed him a second time, and just before kissing him again, said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
What is Paul talking about when he says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16)? It is a comment he makes to a few of his churches, but not all of them. There is no explanation of what the holy kiss is, why it is to be done, how it is to be done, when it is to be done, who benefits from it, whether it should be done by both sexes, whether it should be done within the sexes or between the sexes, what biblical principle it is based on, or what it typifies or represents. It also does not give any sort of warning or show of authority to those who may not want to do it.
I think Paul was talking about something like the Middle Eastern tradition of the slight hug and a cheek kiss on both sides. This is like a handshake. But it is more than a handshake because Paul calls it a “Holy Kiss.” Holy means there is a Christian element to it that includes unconditional love, friendship, and compassion. This makes it much more than a polite greeting.
I think that the modern American version of the holy kiss is embodied in any greeting, hug, or handshake that expresses a sincere expression of friendship for the person. It often occurs with a blessing like, “God be with you.” People that are visiting a church expect some kind of sincere greeting when they go to a church because the number one reason for joining a church is the friendliness of the church.
Interestingly, when I visit people who have left a church, often associated with reasons they left is that no one called to check up on them, or their church seemed unfriendly because it seemed unconcerned about the reason they haven’t been coming. I have often wanted to ask, “When you were active in the church did you regularly check up on people, even your friends, to see if they were alright?” I have never asked that question because I know it will make the person mad by exposing the hypocrisy of their statement, since my experience is that many Christians don’t take time to evaluate how friendly they actually are. And the Christians that do reach out with the “holy kiss” of friendship, compassion, and concern rarely get upset when others do not return the kindness.
When was the last time you noticed someone wasn’t in church? Did you find a loving and compassionate way to share a “holy kiss” with them by reaching out to them in Christian love? Would you be upset if no one reached out to you in similar circumstances? Would you have the maturity to think the problem was the way you were looking at things, and seek to be more understanding, or would you be offended, and walk away from your church family? What would Jesus do in similar circumstances? How would we have to change to model what Jesus would do?
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