“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity.” (1 Peter 5:13–14, AV)
Prior to entering the pastorate, I noticed that some churches are so cold that you could put on a pair of ice-skates and skate down the aisle. What I mean is that you could not sense the warmth of Christian love from the congregation. While this is often a plight of the larger churches, the smaller ones are not immune to this problem either. My wife and I attended one church that had the proverbial handshake time in the middle of the service. Yes, people did greet us and smiled. However, before and after the service we felt that if we dropped dead, they would just walk right over us as they were leaving. In other words, no one said a word to us.
We have been in other churches where the people were so friendly, that we almost could not leave. It seemed that nearly everyone wanted to talk to us. We were greeted warmly in those churches.
Peter closed this letter with this note, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity.” It is a strange thing in our culture to see people who are not in a close relationship, such as husband and wife, those courting, or family members kissing one another. Yet in other cultures, kissing is not unusual.
I was once in Europe on business and while in that setting, I noticed the interaction of a salesman and a customer from Russia kissing each other on the cheek several times. Someone explained to me that this was a customary greeting in Russia for close acquaintances. Yet, I am not sure that this action approached the deeper meaning of Peter’s exhortation here.
In the exhortation to greet one another in the church with a kiss of “charity,” the word “charity,” is agape. It refers to love, a special kind of love. It is the kind of love that God has extended towards us in sending His Son to save us. It is not a type of love that is expressed in a passionate erotic style of kissing. The kiss of which Peter spoke is one of Christian love, a love that expresses a bond of fellowship in Christ. It is one that shows the compassion and concern for the other, the willingness to extend oneself for the benefit of the other, and the joint participation in the body of Christ. It was to be an expression of warmth in the fellowship.
As this kiss was common in the culture of Peter’s Day, we cannot expect that this would be the norm in our modern-day American church. However, we should expect real expressions of Christian love and fellowship between one another in the church. There should be a warm greeting of one another. It should not be contrived, but a natural expression of the love of Christ that is in every believer poured out to others. We often overlook the guest that enters our fellowships because of the familiarity we have with others. Christian love should never overlook the stranger in our midst.