How Greeting with a Holy Kiss Promotes Unity in the Church
I love how the apostle Paul closes out his second letter to the Corinthians. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12).
My aim in this post and others to follow is to show how taking this command seriously can serve to guard oneness in your church.
What is a holy kiss? The adjective tips us off that he means nothing sensual at all. Yet it still involves physical contact. This gesture promotes spiritual purposes, not amorous ones.
In the ancient world, among the Jews and other cultures, even in parts of the world today, people greeted each other, normally males with males and females with females, by a light touch of the lips, first on one cheek and then on the other.
The early church adopted the same, often after baptisms as a way of welcoming new converts into the church and during communion to welcome repentant folks who returned to the table.
We find this same exhortation in several other places in the New Testament (see Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; and 1 Pet. 5:14 where Peter calls it the kiss of love).
This mattered.Why does Paul close his letter on this note, other than the familiar benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14? What would possess him to direct them to make sure they engage in such an intimate, personal expression of love toward one another as a holy kiss at the close of things?
It has everything to do with the kinds of issues he addresses in this most personal letter he has just written to them. The Corinthian church experienced trouble on multiple fronts. They suffered division in their ranks (2 Cor. 12:20), corrupt teaching from false apostles (2 Cor. 11:4), grave sin that needed discipline and restoration (2 Cor. 2:5-8), among other things.
So writing both to address these things and to defend his apostleship which had come into question, Paul now wraps up the letter to put a summary recap on everything he has said.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
He reveals his pastoral heart in love. Notice he calls them brothers (all inclusive, men and women). That’s important, as a term of endearment, because the immediate context, shows Paul delivering a scorching rebuke, threatening apostolic severity (2 Cor. 13:10) when he comes, if they don’t shape up.
He doesn’t want to leave that kind of sour taste in their mouths. Note well, reproof delivered with hard words may well have longer lasting effects when followed by strong assurances of love and affection.
Never lower the boom on anyone, especially in the body of Christ, without strong reminders of your affection and commitment to that someone.
I think Paul calls for the kiss of love in the end result of his letter so that they won’t peace-fake. I suppose you can come up to somebody you would really rather not have anything to do with and fake such a thing, but don’t call it holy. And it’s really hard to do!
To engage somebody on that level of intimacy where you will go cheek to cheek, normally means you’ve got no impediments blocking your relationship. Having to do this kind of thing in a fellowship of believers can help ensure that peacemaking, not peace-faking or peace-breaking, actually does go on.
In my next post I will head into v. 11 to help us embrace the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss in ways culturally appropriate in our day and age.