Over the past few weeks we’ve been asking the question; how can you be a church without a building?
Sure, we’ve never had our own building, but we had space we were able to call home; a place where memories were made, and lives were changed.
And so, the question is . . . what now? How can we be church when we don’t have space of our own?
I think this was one of the pressing questions of the early church.
If you remember, what started out as a small group of disciples, exploded to over 3,000 people after Peter preached and the Spirit of God was poured out over them.
In the aftermath of the Spirit’s arrival, and as the message of the gospel spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, and the entire world . . . those new believers must have been asking themselves the same question . . . what now?
They didn’t have buildings, and they didn’t have sacred places . . . but what they had was one another.
With the coming of God’s Spirit, no longer was God contained in a building, or a single location. God’s Spirit took his dwelling within his people. This was the church. You are the church.
This is why the phrase, “one another” is used 59 times in the New Testament.
And this the granddaddy of them all is “Love one Another”
It is the one repeated more than any other because it is the one principle on which all the other “one another” principles depend.
You see, Love is the proof of our faith. It is the evidence of what we believe.
But you might be surprised to learn that the second most frequent “one another” principle is to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
We're not talking about one obscure reference. It's written in five different letters, encompassing dozens of congregations, in several different countries.
Four times, Paul urges his readers to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” He had to tell the Corinthian church in both of his letters to them. I guess they weren't a very warm and welcoming congregation.
In Peter's first letter to the churches in Asia Minor he calls them to greet one another with a kiss of love.
And yet, it’s the “one another” principle that we tend to skip over. I think we skip it because we don’t understand what it means. So, this morning we’re going to dive into this short passage and put it into context to help us understand this “one another” statement and what it means for a small faith community like ours.
Let’s read our text together: Romans 16:16
When we read Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” our attention is immediately drawn to the word kiss, but in the grammar of the text, that is not where the emphasis of this verse lies.
The main thrust of this command is . . . to greet.
Interestingly, the root of the word greet means, “to enfold in the arms”. It originally meant to hug. So, in the first century context, when you would greet someone, you would embrace them in your arms and give them a kiss.
Now this type of greeting was not new with the church. It was a part of Mediterranean culture among both the Jews and the Romans and its significance varied depending on the context of the kiss.
- Close friends may greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks.
- When someone was addressing a superior, they may offer a kiss of respect on the hand.
So, the people that Paul and Peter were writing too were already kissing. This isn't a command to do something they weren’t already doing.
But it was instruction about how they should kiss . . . it was to be holy and marked by love.
The early church took this standard greeting of their culture and they gave it new depth and meaning. They made it something special; something “holy.”
By the 2nd and 3rd Centuries the holy kiss or the kiss of love became an important part of the church's worship. The kiss was the opening act of their celebration of the Lord's Supper.
The kiss signified that we had all been made one in Jesus and that the church was to be a place where everyone was loved and included in Christ. Pretty cool, huh?
But we need to be careful how we apply this 1st Century teaching to our modern situation. We could simply transfer the physical practice of kissing into our worship gathering, but totally miss the point.
It's kind of like when Jesus washed the disciple's feet and asked them to do the same. The point wasn't that we should always wash each other's feet, but that we should be willing to humble ourselves and serve our brother’s or sister’s in Christ just as Jesus’s humbly served.
In the same way, we need to be able to distinguish between the universal essence of this command and the cultural application.
Here in Romans 16 kissing is the cultural application of a universal principle. The form, the kiss itself, was just he vehicle for the real principle here. The universal principle is that we are to receive and welcome each other with tender affection.
Let’s put this short verse into it’s context so you can see what I’m talking about. If you read from the beginning of Romans 16, it almost sounds like Paul is reading through the church membership roster as he recites a bunch of names that are nearly impossible to pronounce but there is more to it than that.
You can tell that Paul has been deeply touched by some of these people but what makes this list so amazing is that he has never been to Rome. These are relationships that he has built over the years he has traveled the world spreading the gospel.
And as he calls out each person by name, he repeats again and again . . . greet, greet, greet! The emphasis is all on the greeting.
There are some other amazing things about this list of names that sheds some light on the incredible depth and breadth of this word, “Greet.” All we see here is a bunch of funny sounding names, but if you were reading this with 1st Century eyes, some things would leap right off the page.
The first thing you would notice is how these names include both Jews and Gentiles. You never saw this outside the church, Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles, and Gentiles thought Jews were just weird. Jews and Gentiles greeting and kissing . . . it was unthinkable, but here it is.
Paul is saying that the church is greater than any racial, cultural or ethnic difference.
The second thing you would see with your 1st Century eyes would be that several of these names were common slave names that were mixed in with people who were very rich and powerful.
Narcissus was a rich and powerful man who had influence with Emperor Claudius. Bible scholars believe that Aristobulus was the grandson of Herod the Great.
With this list of names Paul is saying that the church, the body of Christ, the “one another’s” are greater than social rank or economic status; it doesn't matter what side of the tracks you come from, or in which neighborhood you live.
The third thing you would notice is how many women Paul greets in this text. Nine of the Twenty-six are women, and five of them are especially commended for their ministry in the church. You would not find such public recognition of women anywhere else in 1st Century Roman culture.
Our church is greater than our gender differences.
Church should be a place that values people and relationships. Jesus said that all the commands can be wrapped up in the command . . . “Love God and Love others”.
Worship can be amazing and life giving. Our missions can make a BIG difference in our community and the world but without relationship, without “one another”, they have no real meaning.
That forms the context when we get down to our verse for today. After all his personal greetings, he gives a general call for all Christians to greet one another, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
Romans 16 is an example of how the church should always be a place of tender affection.
In church, you should always be able to find a warm embrace, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a heart to care. This all begins with the way that we welcome and receive one another.
But the question remains . . . what’s up with the kiss? But if you remember the emphasis is on greet and the word greet is better translated as “hug”. You see, there is power in touch.
To touch is to make yourself vulnerable to one another and requires intimacy. It breaks down barriers between gender, race, or social class. It’s hard to be distant, divided, or bitter with someone you have kissed.
Jesus used the power of touch throughout his ministry. He would touch others that no one else would touch. So often he healed with a touch. He didn’t have to touch them to heal, he could have done that with just a word, but Jesus understood the power of touch . . . because it communicates love and attention. It offers reassurance. It offers redemption.
I’m not sure how we can recover the lost art of affectionate touch in the church, but we need to. The church should be the one place where people can feel loved.
A verbal greeting is one thing. It's nice and polite and all, but to add touch to a verbal greeting takes it to a whole other level. It takes time and effort. You have to go out of your way to affectionately touch someone. You can't just do it as you walk by.
So, give someone a big, warm hug. Let them know you're praying for them because the way we welcome and receive one another is a testimony to what we believe about how God welcomes and receives us.
A tender and affectionate greeting says I welcome you and receive you just as God does. You will find his love and grace here. Here you have a home. With us you have a family.
When you have nowhere else to go, you come here. When no one else will listen, talk to us. You are my brother. You are my sister. You are welcome here.