Greet One Another

July 26, 2008 Romans 16:3-6

INTRODUCTION & Input Discussion – Choose a few of these to get things started

1. What do you suppose is the difference between a normative biblical function and a non-normative cultural form? What is normative in the injunction to "greet one another with a holy kiss"? What is cultural? If Paul were writing the same command to Christians today, how might he word it?

2. What significance does the function of greeting have among a group of Christians? Why do you suppose it is important enough to merit mention five times in the New Testament?

3. Read Colossians 3:12-14. How can Christians reflect this kind of relationship in our greetings? What forms might those greetings appropriately take?

4. What level of physical contact do you consider appropriate among Christians when they are greeting one another? In what situations would you consider more physical contact appropriate? How can you safeguard against abuse? Against being misunderstood?

5. Do you have any cultural barriers that cause you to violate the biblical exhortation to "greet one another with a holy kiss"?

OR

Divide into teams and have each team list what they consider to be the top five insincere or cliche greetings. Compare lists and discuss: If you used one of these greetings only when you really meant it, how often would you say it? What purpose do these greetings serve if we really don't mean what we're saying?

Gene Getz tells of a personal illustration:  Several years ago, he walked into their church building one evening. A group of leaders and their families had gathered for fellowship. As he walked through the crowd that was assembling, he passed by a young high school student. "Hi, Bruce, how are you doing?" Gene said, as he went on to "greet" others. A few minutes later, one of their pastors tapped him on the shoulder. "Gene," he said, "I have to admonish you for something."

At first, Gene thought Mike was kidding. He wasn't. "Gene," he continued, "you did something a moment ago that I often do myself." (Incidentally, this is a very sensitive way to admonish a brother. He immediately disarmed Gene by sharing that he was at times guilty of the very thing he wanted to call to his attention.)

 When it dawned on Gene that Mike was serious, he responded immediately and asked what he had done. Mike proceeded to reconstruct the "Hi, Bruce, how are you doing?" scenario. "You asked him how he was doing," Mike said, "but you didn't stay around long enough to hear his response."

At that moment, Mike had Gene’s undivided attention! "What did he say?" Gene asked. Mike then proceeded to tell Gene that this young man had responded by saying —"I'm not very well. My brother was in a motorcycle accident today!"

Gene goes on to say how embarrassed he was, but thankful Mike had the courage and concern to "tap him on the shoulder" and call this to his attention. Gene thanked Mike, found Bruce immediately, and apologized and asked his forgiveness for not listening to his response.

ILLUSTRATION POINTS:

  • When we ask people how they're doing, we ought to stay around long enough to hear what they say.
  • It's so easy to become ritualistic in our "greetings"—to walk into church and ask, "How are you?" Often the responses are just as superficial—"Fine, thank you, and how are you?" We then move on to more brief encounters. Frequently, we never get beyond the surface. At times we hope people won't really tell us how they're doing because we don't want to be bothered.
  • The gracious admonishment of others is one reason we need other members of the body of Christ in our lives.

I. PAUL’S PERSONAL TOUCH

When Paul closed out his letter to the Romans, he extended a whole series of "greetings" to various people who meant a lot to him. He actually mentioned twenty-six people by name. People like and appreciate when they are called by name—a social grace that takes much discipline, especially when we are meeting lots of new people all the time.

After Paul mentioned these people by name and greeted them directly and indirectly with some very special words of commendation and appreciation, he closed out this series of special "hellos" by telling them to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom. 16:16).

INPUT  - What did Paul mean? Does this injunction have any relevance for Christians today, or, is this "one another" injunction purely cultural? We need to answer these questions—especially since this exhortation is repeated five times in the New Testament—four times by Paul and once by Peter (1 Cor. 16:20: 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thes. 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14).

ABSOLUTES -VS- NONABSOLUTES

  • In order to interpret scriptural exhortations properly, we must understand the difference between "absolutes" and "nonabsolutes." For example, we are told to "teach and counsel one another." This is certainly a function. However, the Bible does not lock us into a particular form or structure for that process to take place.
  • We are also told to "preach the Word," but are not told specifically how. In these cases, teaching, preaching, and counseling are basic functions that take on various forms.  It is impossible to have function without form. It is possible, however, to talk about a function without describing form or methodology. This the Bible does frequently. We make a serious mistake when we superimpose particular cultural forms on biblical functions and then make the forms absolute as well as the functions. (i.e. Some insist that preaching must always be from the pulpit, arranged with three points, and delivered with a forceful voice. The fact is, the Bible says nothing about the first two factors, and probably implies "loud voices" in most cases because they didn't have amplifiers.
  • The Bible doesn't teach that these things are wrong. The Bible leaves us free to develop the forms that are most appropriate in any given culture -  in order to carry out a normative biblical function.
  • Understanding the scriptural difference between function and form, supra-cultural absolutes and cultural non-absolutes, helps solve many problems in biblical interpretation.
  • So, the injunction to "greet one another with a holy kiss" also becomes an understandable concept—relevant in the twenty-first century as well as the first century.
  • On the one hand, the injunction, to "greet one another" is supracultural;
  • On the other hand, the "kiss" represents a form of greeting very common in the first century. It is still common in some cultures today.

2 EXAMPLES: 

  • Heads of state in Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries greeting one another with a kiss.
  • The outward demonstrations by Russian leaders when they visit outside their country. They usually hold their host officials by both arms and then give a kiss on either the right or both cheeks.
  • Many times these greetings are neither "holy" or "meaningful." They’re pure protocol.

FUNCTION AND FORM

In some ways this "one another" (with a holy kiss) exhortation is different from the others.

  • All of the injunctions (to greet one another) focus on function.
  • To greet one another with a holy kiss includes both function and form.
  • On the one hand, to "greet one another" is a function and normative. We are to do this in every cultural situation. The "form" of that greeting will vary.
  • In other words, as Christians, we're always to sincerely greet one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. However, the way that greeting is expressed depends on what is appropriate and expected in a given culture.

EXAMPLES:

  1. Many of our Christian brothers and Sisters in Russia and the Ukraine take this exhortation seriously and greet one another with a kiss on the lips—men with men and women with women.
  2. Brazilian Christians have a different approach— Men hug other men and men greet women with a kiss on each cheek—which must be initiated by the women. Single women, however, are greeted with a kiss, first on either cheek and then a third time on the first cheek.

INPUT: What experiences do you have with greetings in other cultures?

  • Forms vary from culture to culture. However, whatever forms these functions take in the Christian community, they should never violate biblical values.
  • For example, in whatever way a "kiss" is expressed, it must always be "holy." This too is part of the supra-cultural dimension of this "one another" exhortation. Whatever we do, we must always reflect God's holy nature. As Peter wrote, we must "be holy" as God "is holy" (1 Peter 1:15).

THE "KISS" IN SCRIPTURE

Did you know that the Bible gives several examples of greeting others with a kiss?

  1. Judas and Christ (Matt. 26:48-49)
  2. The father and his prodigal son (Luke 15:20)
  3. The Ephesian elders and Paul (Acts 20:37).

Not one of these illustrations gives a specific description of the form the kiss took. Luke gives us a slight clue when he describes the, parting scene between the Ephesian elders and Paul in Miletus.

"And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him"(Acts 20:37, KJV).

  • Even here, the description is not very specific. We can only speculate from what we're told. It probably involved kissing his neck or his cheek. This conforms to the cultural practice of the day.

INPUT: Why do you suppose the “form” is ambiguous?

  • ANSWER:  Had the Holy Spirit specified a lot of form when He inspired the New Testament writers to describe New Testament functions, Christians all over the world would be attempting to copy form rather than function.
  • Rather than allowing the biblical objectives to guide us in creating unique forms for a given moment in history and in particular cultures, we would lock ourselves into first century patterns and structures.
  •  This is lethal to Christianity. Contemporary Christians are often guilty of making the Scriptures teach form when it is not even there. Think of what it would be like if there were an abundance of forms spelled out in the New Testament. The church would really be in trouble - we would be locking ourselves into Middle Eastern culture.

Which leads us into the idea that form needs to be motivated by a sincere “Christ like” love.

SINCERE CHRISTIAN LOVE

  • Paul's and Peter's concern was not the form that the greeting should take but that it be a "holy" one—a sanctified one—an expression of true Christian love.
  • KEY POINT - It was to demonstrate that believers were truly brothers and sisters in Christ. It was no longer to be just a greeting — a routine gesture that reflected the social graces of the particular culture. It was to be sincere and meaningful, reflecting God's care and concern for us all and in turn our care and concern for each other!!

NOTE: Reflecting back to Introduction

Greetings among people generally tend to be empty and superficial.

  • We say, "Hello, how are you?" without any thought of wanting to know how you really are.
  • Some say, "It's been good to see you." Yet couldn't care less if they ever see you again.
  •  Others say, "I'm glad you came," while not caring if you'll ever come again.
  • All of these, of course, are meaningless and empty, if not in many instances downright dishonest and hypocritical.
  • Most of us, however, make these comments out of pure cultural habit.

Key POINT: Paul's concern (and Peter's) was that these New Testament Christians would greet one another with pure motives. Each greeting was to be a true expression of concern and love. When Christians greet one another today, the greeting must reflect the same dynamic. There is no place for hypocrisy and dishonesty among members of Christ's body.

OVERCOMING CULTURAL BARRIERS

What about cultural barriers? What if I wasn’t raised in an environment where physical contact/affection wasn’t evident?

EXAMPLE:  Suzanne, was reared in a home where physical affection was almost nonexistent. Her Husband, Dan just the opposite. Even today, Dan still kisses his mom who is still living as well as his adult brothers and sisters. When they became engaged, Dan felt it was only appropriate to do the same with Suzanne’s mother. However, when Dan tried to kiss her on the cheek, she instinctively withdrew, reflecting what she had learned in her particular culture. However, understanding these emotional barriers, Dan was not to be deterred. The next time Dan met her, He greeted her with a kiss—but this time, with less resistance. Eventually, she met him halfway across the room, actually initiating the greeting. In fact, the time came that if Dan didn't kiss her when he met her, he was in serious trouble. You see, down deep she wanted that kind of experience all along. However, the culture had restricted her all those years. In this case, Dan’s mother-in-law's culture was out of harmony with biblical teachings.

PRACTICAL STEPS FOR APPLYING THIS PRINCIPLE TODAY

  1. Make sure you are living in harmony with other brothers and sisters in Christ. You cannot greet others sincerely if you do not really care about them, or if there is something between you and another Christian brother or sister.
  1. Make every effort to develop sincere interest in others. If we are not sincerely interested in other people's interests, we will never feel comfortable greeting them. We will always be avoiding them or even running away—often blaming other people for not, being interested in us. "If you have difficulty expressing sincere affection and love for other Christians, your problem may be rooted in one of two sources. Either you are a self-centered person because you always think of yourself first and have built the world around yourself. Or perhaps you feel uncomfortable with people because you are fearful and have deep feelings of inferiority. There is only one basic solution to both of these problems—no matter what the root cause. You must forget about yourself. You must reach out to others. With God's help, you can! It is one of the keys to helping others grow.
  1. Consider the aspects of physical affection in greeting other Christians. First-century Christians greeted one another with more than words. This is a certainty. A kiss—no matter how it is expressed— involved physical contact with the other person. It probably involved both sexes.

INPUT: Could it be that Christians have been so concerned with the "dangers" of touching that we have gone to the other extreme?

CONCLUSION:

Mature Christians can and should show physical affection. In our society, shaking hands, a kiss on the cheek, and a gentle, nonsensuous embrace are certainly appropriate. Most Christians can express this kind of affection. But it must always be based on pure motives, discretion, and above all, true Christian love.

When it is expressed inappropriately, reflecting impure motives, indiscretion, and selfish actions, it can lead to hurt, bitterness, immorality conflict and disunity.

But isn't this true of almost every ingredient in Christian relationships?