Have you ever noticed that it is hard to deal with cultural differences? Some of you have visited other countries and have not enjoyed the experience at all. I heard of many people, from America, who visited Paris and said they would never go back because people there were rude. Of course, I also heard of many people from the American South that didn’t enjoy their visit to the “Yankee” land because the Northerners were rude, or so they said! But many times, I think a person does not enjoy a trip to a foreign country because they do not understand the culture of the people to whom they are exposed.
Culture differences are, many times, a thing that is hard to master. You know all of this didn’t escape the business world and they have realized that unless they start mastering cultural differences, their benefits will stay down. So they have sent out some specialists to investigate and have spent lots of money to understand the people they deal with. I went to the library last week and got a book that is the result of such an effort. I have it with me this morning. It is entitled Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. And it is, of course, about how you greet each other in each country. As you look at the thickness of the book, you see that it is by no means a uniform thing and that it may, sometimes, be hard to figure out. Would you know for instance how to greet a Japanese person? According to this book, you should put your palms against your thighs and bow. And if the person is socially more important, you must bow lower than him/her and let him/her rise first. How about an Indonesian? You would hold hands for fifteen seconds or so and put your hand on your heart. Now, in France, you kiss men and women 4 or 5 times. You actually only touch cheeks and kiss the air. But still, it is uncomfortable when women wear lots of makeup. And you must be sure to kiss everyone in a room when you first see them and when you leave them. If you go to Egypt, however, you only shake hands with the men and do not dare touch a woman or, if you are a woman, do not dare touch a man. If you do, you will force him to go and wash himself seven times because he’ll be impure. In fact, if you are a man visiting Egypt, it is smart to totally ignore your wife, as well as other wives when you are in public.
What other funny thing did I see here? Oh yeah, a Romanian may come to you and fully kiss you on the mouth. So, if you’re a man and go there, watch out for other men. You don’t want to become too close in friendship. And the list goes on and on. In India, you join hands below the chin and you nod. In South Korea, you never introduce yourself. You use a mediator. Now why am I spending some time talking about this? Because of the subject we will discuss this Sunday.
If you have a Bible, would you please open it to the book of Romans, Ch. 16, v. 16 and read with me. “……” Then turn to I Cor. 16:19-20. “…..” I Peter 5:14 “…..” and finally to II Cor. 13:11-12 “…..”
Greeting one another with a holy kiss was obviously an important matter, not only for the apostle Paul, but also for Peter and the other Christians. According to what we read, the first Christians were not to neglect this practice. But did you ever wonder why it is repeated over and over again? I want to take the time, this morning, to study the question.
I. To express deep love and care
I think the first reason was because kissing each other with a holy kiss was a way to show deep love and care for others within the body. You know when I have been gone from my home for a whole day, I cannot wait to come home and see my wife. I am eager for that moment when I come in the door and she comes to greet me with a kiss. I know that when she does that, she has missed me and she still loves me like the first day when I exchanged vows. You, hopefully, know what I am talking about!
Greeting somebody means that you welcome the person - that you are fond of them. The worst thing that can take place in any group is for its members to start ignoring one another. I mean, if you go some place and people see you, but they don’t acknowledge your presence, if they don’t talk to you, if they don’t even smile at you, how does it make you feel? I had the experience a few times when I visited some churches. I did visit some where this very thing took place. I had only two or three people coming to talk to me and my wife out of the 100 or so that were there. I felt out of place. I felt totally surrounded by strangers, by people who were not happy to see us. I told my wife, when I went out, that if I had been a visitor, I would never have gone back to that place. They were too cold. But you know, I wonder then, how it truly is in our church for a visitor that came from the outside?
Jesus Christ didn’t act this way. He was not in the habit of ignoring the people He passed by. Look for example in Luke Ch. 7:11-15. We read, “……”
A woman had lost her husband and now she had lost her only son. Have you any idea what it meant for her? Some of you have lost mates but you still have your children and when the pain gets to bad, you, many times, look at your kids and find comfort. But this lady had nothing left. She would not have a husband at home to put his arm around her or another child to help her bear her pain. She was alone and it is truly a tragic thing to survive the one to whom you gave birth! Not only that, but during this time, who was the bread maker? Who worked outside of the house to provide for the family? It was the males. So when the men of the house died, you were left without any means. Your life was going to get tough. You may recall the harsh conditions of Ruth and Naomi, who were forced to eat the leftover in the field because they didn’t have husbands or sons. A single woman, at that time, couldn’t just walk to the welfare office or to the unemployment office. She would struggle to make ends meet and to take care of the house repairs. That is why God wanted the church to care financially for the widows in I Tim. 5. This woman was alone and probably now in a hard position financially. She was probably afraid for her future. And Jesus comes in Nain at that time and the Bible says he felt compassion. That means he was touched in the heart. That poor lady didn’t escape Jesus’ attention. I mean, at this point, it didn’t matter how many people were there, Jesus would identify the one in need and take the time, first, for that person.
Now you know what that tells me? That if you want to be like Jesus, you and I are going to have to teach ourselves to stop and look for people in need. We are going to have to stop just seeing people and each other as crowds and as strangers. We are going to have to acknowledge individual needs. Do you do it? Do you ever sit and think, in yourself, I need to go and ask how “so and so” is doing? Or, I need to walk up to this visitor and make them feel wanted – like I care! See, all of this is supposed to take place in the church. That’s what the apostles said when they wrote: “Greet each other with a holy kiss!” In other words, we are to acknowledge one another in a way that shows our care and we ought to do that on the deepest levels.
That is shown in the word “kiss”. See in the world of that time, there were many forms of greeting. One way was to just lift your hands or nod your head and say, “Shalom”, which meant “peace be with you”. That was the way two strangers addressed each other. Then some were clasping hands and forearm. Friends, often, greeted each other that way. And then, there was the kiss. The kiss was practiced within families. It was the highest form of greeting – number one on the list. And it was that form the Christians were to adopt. They were not to use the lesser methods of saying “Hi” to each other.
Now how does that translate for our culture? Some people say we are to still kiss each other. Well, if they want to do it, it doesn’t bother me, but I think the emphasis is not so much on the form as on the highest level of greeting. In Europe, kissing is that form, so it applies. But in the United States, it seems that the hug has replaced the kiss. You know what I mean. There are also different levels of greeting here. The book I showed you earlier says the standard greeting is “a smile, often accompanied by a nod, a wave or a verbal address”. Acquaintances shake hands and good friends or family members usually hug, finishing the embrace with a pat or two on the back. So if that’s considered the highest way of greeting, this is what I am to apply in the church to fulfill the words of Rom 16:16 or II Cor. 13:12. Since you and I are blood brothers and blood sisters, we will act within the church as we would with natural relatives.
And we will do so with pure motives. Understand what I am saying here because I think that many times, many brothers in the church have conducted themselves inappropriately with their greetings. There was one man in my preaching class that my wife refused to hug because of the way he would touch her in his embrace. Now that is wrong. When the Bible talks about a kiss, it adds the little word “holy”. So it isn’t just any kind of kiss or hug. It is a holy kiss or a holy hug that has to be exchanged. And holy means pure. That is irrefutable. It means a conduct befitting those separated from the world. It means a kiss unmixed with wrong motives or desires. And so when two Christians greet each other, the sexual aspect ought to be removed. If, somehow, a person struggles with that, you know what the Bible says. It is better to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin than to enter hell with both hands. So just pass if you can’t help yourself and if you are a lady, I advise that if you know the brother is not having pure thoughts, you should not be a stumbling block. Just say “Hi” with a warm handshake.
II. To reflect the peace of the body
The number two reason for greeting one another, I believe, is to reflect the peace that God has established between each of us. If you look at II Cor. 13:11, right before Paul says kiss each other, he says, “Live in peace with one another”. In Col. 3:16, he adds, “…..” In Christ, we have been called to live in peace with one another. It has to be the goal of every single one of us. We are not to be divided by gossip, bad feelings or resentment. Peace should rule in our hearts.
But you say, “It is so hard to be as one with a brother or sister who has hurt me – to greet them with warmth when what they did is eating me on the inside.” And you are right! That’s exactly the problem. Often, we have allowed things to eat us on the inside and we haven’t forgiven as we should. Look at the context of Col. 3:15. Start reading with me from verse 12 to 16. “……” See, for peace to take place, there must first be an attitude within us that says what my brother did wrong, I will forgive and forget. I will forbear his or her mistakes and that implies self-restraint, endurance and holding back punishment. That attitude is the only one that will lead us to peace. But you and I, we have a long way to go on that one. We are so immature too many times and what rules our hearts is not the ways of Christ, but the ways of the evil one, of the accuser, who never forgets our faults but who, day and night, tries to bring them back in the remembrance of God.
Have you ever heard the story of the water master? It goes like this.
“Years ago there was a village in a desert. Water was scarce and the people treasured what little they had. It seldom rained, but when it did, people scurried about to capture it in buckets and pots. Every drop was a treasure. Every cup was precious.
One day a farmer was digging holes for fence posts. A few feet below the surface of the ground he found a cavern—not large, but full of water. He immediately lowered a bucket, pulled it out, and tasted, to his delight, cold, sweet water. He was so excited. He filled all his buckets, loaded them in the back of his wagon and hurried into the village.
“I have water! I have water!” he shouted. The villagers came running out of their houses. As the people gathered, the farmer explained how he had come upon the treasure. He joyfully announced that there was enough for everyone. “Drink all you want,” he offered. And then, to the people’s amazement, he picked up a bucket and doused a little boy. “There is plenty!” he proclaimed. “Enjoy it.” And with that the people began to laugh and splash each other. For the first time, as long as anyone could remember, there was enough water for everyone.
After the celebration, the farmer announced his plan. “I’ll bring some water in every morning so each of you can have what you need.” And that’s exactly what he did. The farmer became the water master. Every morning he loaded the buckets into his wagon, rode into town, and gave some water to the people. It was a new day. The water was free. The farmer was willing and villagers were grateful.
Until one night the farmer had a dream. In the dream he saw the people taking the water and not being thankful. They would walk up to the wagon, snatch the bucket and march away without a word of appreciation.
When he awoke, he was troubled. As he rode into town, he resolved to give the water only to the grateful. Before he allowed the people to take their buckets, he announced, “From now on, I will not give water to those who aren’t thankful.” The people were surprised. Each person thanked him when he or she received the water.
All was well until the farmer had another dream. In this dream, some of the people who were drinking the water were unkind to their neighbors and mean to their animals. The next morning he was bothered again. He decided he would only give the water to worthy individuals.
“If you are mean to your animals or unkind to your neighbors, you will get no water,” he decreed. The people looked at each other and were silent. They knew the bad people among them. When the water master saw the looks of distrust, he had an idea. “Each of you come and tell me who is unworthy so I will know who is mean and unkind.” So one by one, they came with their names and he made a list. The list grew and grew.
Finally, after every villager had spoken, the farmer read the names. He was shocked. Every person in the town was on the list except one. The farmer.
So he stood on the wagon and announced that since few were grateful and none were worthy, he would bring no more water to the village. And he turned his wagon of water around and went home.
You know the farmer in the story could represent the Father. What if God said, “From now on, I will not pour my blessings on the one who isn’t worthy” and started to make a list based on the grievances we hold in. How many do you think would keep being blessed?
Folks, I’ve said it before, but I say it again. In the body of Christ, there shouldn’t be any unforgiven act. That is true for those we relate with outside of our fellowship and here. We should live in peace with each other and cast out all roots of bitterness. So what if John Doe hurt you or hurt your family? Do you think you never did worse or the same? Your sins may be different, but they still amount to the same results. We need to stop pointing fingers at others and look at ourselves. Take a note card and take a test for a second. If I was to ask you to write down the name of one person who hurt you in this church, who would you put down? Write it! Then if I was to ask how that has affected your attitude with them, what would you write? I still don’t go to this person’s house, I don’t talk to them or I don’t greet them? Write down what you still do! It may be what resulted out of a confrontation that didn’t go too well and the one who confronted may be the one who is not letting go! Now, I want to suggest that you go home and do some serious praying about that. When you are finished, take the paper and burn or bury it. Give your feelings a funeral and declare that from that day, you will let go – that you will stop seeking vengeance or doing whatever else you do. If you need to, also go and ask your brother’s or your sister’s forgiveness for the way you have been treating them. Don’t forget the words of Matt 6:14-15. “….” The bottom line, if you do not let go, the one who will get hurt is you. Don’t fool yourself. You may be able to go through church life as if no problem existed. You may wear a mask that I will never pierce, but God has already seen through it!
So again, what does forgiveness have to do with my lesson? Forgiveness is what will allow you to remain united and to be at peace with one another. To reflect that peace, you ought to greet one another with the highest level of affection. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if, before you left today, you made a point to go and hug the one you have been struggling with? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if you made a new habit out of it?
You know, I think that if each of us were concerned about this greeting, we would stop losing so many people. We would even attract visitors who would see us as a warm place where everyone is welcome. People would not walk out of here saying, “What a cold place,” “There is no love in this church” or “I am not wanted here.” Remember, this greeting is not optional. God didn’t say, “If you have an easy time talking to others, you do the greeting” or “If you are an introvert, you are excused.” We all are responsible to make sure it happens and that no one is left out! If I see a brother or a sister alone, or even a visitor, I should zoom in on them and perhaps spend a little less time with those I always talk with!
This afternoon, if Christ has touched your heart, we want to ask you to respond to his invitation. If you need to repent and ask for the prayers of the church, come down and let us bear your burden and by doing so, we will fulfill Gal. 6:2. And if you want to start living by our Master’s standard, but never obeyed before, we want to invite you to come down and be immersed into the kingdom of our Lord. At that time, the scriptures have promised that your sins will be forgiven and that you will overcome the world. Respond if you need to!