A little while ago, our pastor was looking at 1 Thessalonians 5, which concludes with the exhortation: ‘Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss’ (verses 25-26, NIV).
Being in a slightly whimsical frame of mind, I found myself wondering why this particular command appeared to be neglected by our little Baptist church.
Actually, as someone who was once kissed by a large number of bearded Christians at the end of an exhausting Russian Orthodox Easter Vigil to which I’d been invited, I’ve a pretty good idea!
And yet, as 2 Timothy 3:16 helpfully reminds us, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’
So where does this leave 1 Thessalonians 5:26 – ‘Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss’; Romans 16:16 – ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’; 1 Corinthians 16:20 – ‘All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss’; 2 Corinthians 13:12 – ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’, and 1 Peter 5:14 – ‘Greet one another with the kiss of love’?
What – if anything – do we do about these five Scripture verses? Do they, if correctly applied, give some indication as to how we should relate to our Christian brothers and sisters?
And do they have anything to say to Christian men about how to show ‘brotherly love’? (The ESV translates 1 Thessalonians 5:26 as ‘Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.’)
Now, my wife is one of four siblings. And not all the brothers and sisters get on with all of their siblings all of the time.
But there is love, warmth, affection and commitment. They’re the children of the same earthly father, so it’s natural there should be some resemblance, some closeness, some brotherly and sisterly feeling between them.
Now I’m not necessarily suggesting we all go round hugging or kissing one another! Indeed, the first charismatic church I attended was particularly tactile and, at the beginning and end of each meeting, most people tended to hug one another affectionately. (Not being particularly tactile myself, I used to arrive late to avoid the ‘meet and greet’, then rushed for the toilet as soon as the service ended, to avoid a concluding hug.)
Yet, in Africa and Asia, you see Christian men or Christian women holding hands quite innocently as they walk and talk together. And, in Hungary, which I visited in the early 1990s, I saw men kiss one another on the cheek with a continental, old-world courtesy. So some of this, of course, comes down to culture.
But what should brotherly love look like, bearing in mind that we worship and live in the coldblooded UK? How should we – quite aside from church culture – relate as brothers and sisters in Christ?
Ephesians 4:32 tells us to ‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.’ We’re to show ‘unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart’ (1 Peter 3:8), and to ‘Love one another earnestly from a pure heart’ (1 Peter 1:22).
Like natural brothers and sisters, there can be a joyful, appreciative affection and a mutual enjoyment of one another’s company. As Christians, there should also be a sympathetic feeling for our fellow believers, along with the friendly companionship that comes from being fellow labourers in God’s vineyard.
I find it interesting that, although Jesus’ words in John 14:15 (‘If you love Me, you will keep My commandments’) indicate actions rather than feelings, the verses in Ephesians 4:32 and 1 Peter 1:22 and 3:8 have an affectionate and emotional resonance.
This attitude – a little alien to some people’s experience in UK churches – can also be seen in the way God’s people refer to fellow believers in the Bible.
Timothy, in 1 Corinthians 4:17, is referred to as ‘my beloved and faithful child in the Lord’.
Tychicus, in Colossians 4:7, is described as ‘a beloved brother, faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord’.
Onesimus, in Colossians 4:9, is ‘our faithful and beloved brother’.
Luke (Colossians 4:14) is called ‘the beloved physician’, and Titus (Titus 1:4) is named as ‘my true child in a common faith’.
Referring to the Philippian believers, Paul describes them as ‘brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown… my beloved’ (Philippians 4:1) and, not to be left out, the Thessalonian believers are described by Paul as ‘our glory and joy’ (1 Thessalonians 2:20), people who ‘had become very dear to us’ (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
God Himself said of Jesus: ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’, so it’s clearly in God’s nature to acknowledge and affirm. This, I believe, makes it extremely important that we also affirm others.
So, if not a kiss, then a hug.
If not a hug, then a firm handshake, a cheery smile, a warm welcome, a friendly greeting; a kind, appreciative, encouraging, loving, up-building or uplifting word. A good deed done. Help, comfort or prayer offered.
There may be some people we particularly warm to – people who have a similar outlook, sense of humour, job, spiritual approach, background or hobbies. (This, for me, also includes some good Christian friends who recently helped me redecorate my 12-year-old’s bedroom!)
But there may be others we don’t get on with so easily – after all, not all brothers and sisters get on well – but we can still cherish, care for, look after, build up, encourage, think the best of, and seek to do good to these fellow Christians. Christians who, whether we like it or not, are also our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
So I’m not suggesting the five Scriptures I referred to earlier mean we love-bomb one another with hugs or kisses (particularly if they’re directed at a first-time visitor!), but I think the principle of finding warm, affirming, encouraging ways to relate to one another is important in showing the kind of love Scripture asks of us.
Why? Because it makes believers fruitful. 2 Peter 1:5-8 tells us: ‘For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
And because it’s a command. John 15:10: ‘If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.’
As 1 John 3:16 reminds us: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.’
Holy kisses are optional – except for those to whom we are married; loving words and expressions of Christ-inspired brotherly and sisterly love are not!
Gary Clayton is married to Julie, and father of Christopher (12) and Emma (9). He worships at Hayes Lane Baptist Church; served for 15 years as Managing Editor at the Hudson Taylor mission OMF, and is Copywriter and Editor at MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) UK. To learn more about how MAF aircraft help some of the world’s most remote and isolated people, visit www.maf-uk.org.