Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20).
Before we titter nervously like preteen school boys at Paul’s exhortation to kiss, consider this: a kiss in New Testament times was used as a warm greeting between those of the same sex. Many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East still kiss on the cheek or on the forehead as a part of greeting one another affectionately.
How is this exhortation still relevant to us today, in America? The Bible must not be re-interpreted according to current cultural trends. However, part of accurately interpreting God’s Word is to recognize that it was written into a specific culture and context. And so it is important to recognize that a command to specifically “kiss” one another may not translate seamlessly to American culture today.
However, many commentators are quick to say that a simple handshake is the same thing in our context. This is clearly not the case. A matter-of-fact, arm’s-length handshake just doesn’t cover what Paul wanted to see happening in the church. The whole idea here is to greet one another in a way that displays more intimacy and affection than what you would do, for instance, merely in the workplace as you are introduced to a new colleague.
The point is that a kiss expressed sincere love, intimacy, and acceptance of each other.
We see this in the biblical use of the kiss. Joseph, after having been torn away from his father and not being able to see him for years, “fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him” (Genesis 50:1). Similarly, in the New Testament parable of the prodigal son, when the son finally repents, we are told that “he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The point is that a kiss expressed sincere love, intimacy, and acceptance of each other.
The addition of the word “holy” by Paul emphasizes their connectedness in Christ, and the edifying effect their fellowship should have on each other. The grounds of their mutual affection was not, in other words, just shared history together, or similarity of social status or personal interests—it is that they were each believers in Jesus Christ and therefore part of the family of God together.
We are the family of God, and our genuine affection for each other should be obvious to all.
The same should hold true for Christian believers in every age. Even though there are obvious differences in economic levels and personal opinions on various issues, the mutual holiness we have in Christ still draws us together affectionately. This is a binding love that the business world will never know, that social clubs should marvel at, that next door neighbors do not have merely by virtue of proximity to us, and that even family relationships fall short of if they are not built on Christ.
As Alistair Begg observes:
The issue is not kissing, the issue is loving, the issue is caring… this is not a society, this is not a club, this is not a classroom, this is not a seminar: this is a church. And when we come to church, and when we do church, we ought to know we’ve been there, and we ought to know we’ve done that.
Christians should interact with one another in a way that displays their extraordinary, supernatural connectedness in Christ.
We should not be cold, stand-offish, or impersonal within the body of Christ. We are the family of God, by virtue of Christ’s work on our behalf, and our genuine affection for each other should be obvious to all.