Reprinted by permission of the Incorporated Trustees of the Gospel Worker Society, Union Gospel Press, P.O. Box 6059, Cleveland Oh 44101
I still remember how I giggled self-consciously to myself when I first came across "Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss," (II Corin. 13:12). I was a new Christian just getting acquainted with the Bible at the tender age of 12, and I wondered why the Apostle wrote those words.
I now realize that the people of that day were used to living in a rigidly structured society. Roman citizens had a privileged place in the culture. Noblemen expected to be revered. Servants knew "their place." And slaves were on the bottom of the heap.
Then Jesus came and it was "fruit basket upset." He touched unclean people, even lepers. He ate with publicans and sinners. He ignored the carefully crafted rules by which people lived. To the consternation of some and the delight of many, he shook up the rigid class structure of His time.
To top it all off, He died a sinner's death on a cross with thieves on either side of Him. When God raised Him from the dead three days later and He ascended to Heaven, the news spread like wildfire and the early church came into existence.
As the Holy Spirit baptized believers into the body of Christ, there was some confusion about how people should relate to one another. The old rules seemed not to apply anymore. They had to learn new rules.
If a wealthy Jew became a believer and then his slave also came to know Christ, how were they to treat one another? (Actually we see just such a storyline played out in Paul's epistle to Philemon.)
It seems to be human nature to divide ourselves into classes, but Jesus taught His disciples "I am among you as one who serves." Again, He said, "He that is greatest among you, let Him be your servant.
He was the Master, the Son of God, yet before He died, He wrapped Himself in a towel and washed the feet of His followers.
When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he was writing to a group of people from many walks of life. They were not brought together on the basis of ethnicity or social position or economic parity. The one and only thing they had in common was a belief in Jesus, the Son of God. They were all followers of "The Way."
How were they to interact with one another? Paul and Peter and the other apostles traveled from church to church instructing them how they were to live and how they were to treat each other. The Epistles abound with the words "one another." We are to "love one another," "be kindly affectioned one to another," "serve one another."
Gone were the carefully crafted rules about how each social group was to treat another social group.
Undoubtedly there were many questions.
"But that man is my master. I don't think he would want me to sit next to him."
"What you expect me to treat my servant as an equal? I will lose my authority over him."
In this context it is not surprising that Paul would remind believers that it is all right to touch fellow believers, no matter their class and social status. He was exhorting them all to be kind and loving to every believer. And what could be a more loving and tender touch than a "holy kiss?"
Frana Hamilton is Director of Training at a vocational school where she teaches, advises and encourages out-of-work adults who need some training and a helpful boost to get them back into the workplace. She considers it a great privilege to have this ministry.