Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”
Having finished his long list of greetings to specific individuals in the Roman church, Paul in today’s passage shows us that expressions of friendship and affection in the church should not come only from church leaders. Instead, they should be evident among all the members of our various congregations. He shows us that this is the case by instructing the Romans to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16a).
We know that the admonition to greet other believers affectionately is for all believers because Paul tells other local churches the same thing (for example, 1 Cor. 16:20). In any case, to understand the Apostle’s meaning, we need to consider his context. People often greeted one another with a kiss when they met together in the ancient Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire. Thus, Paul adapts a prevailing cultural practice and gives it new significance, for he calls it a “holy kiss.” The most important thing here is that our affectionate greetings should be holy and acceptable to the Lord. It is possible to give kisses with ulterior motives (Luke 22:47-48), and it is possible to greet other believers warmly in the Lord with a hug or a handshake. The kissing is not the important part, as appropriate greetings are expressed in different ways in different cultures. So, in cultures where greeting even members of the same gender with a kiss is appropriate, a holy kiss would be the right action. In other societies where a handshake is the customary way of greeting, the goal should be a holy handshake. Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, “Mutual salutations, as they express love, so they increase and strengthen love, and endear Christians one to another: therefore Paul here encourages the use of them, and only directs that they may be holy—a chaste kiss, in opposition to that which is wanton and lascivious; a sincere kiss, in opposition to that which is treacherous and dissembling.”
In Romans 16:16b, the Apostle extends one final greeting to the Roman Christians from “all the churches of Christ.” The Apostle refers to the various congregations he planted and instructed, reminding the Roman believers that they were not the only community of believers. Christ’s church is bigger than any one congregation or denomination, and as residents of the most important city in the Roman Empire, the Romans needed to be reminded that Jesus’ kingdom was larger than Rome. All of us should be encouraged that the church of Jesus Christ is bigger than what we see in our local churches, cities, or countries.
The differences that separate professing Christian denominations are significant—many of them even touching the heart of the gospel—so we should never minimize them. Yet we should not so separate from others who affirm the true gospel that we believe Jesus cannot be at work in other churches or denominations. Christ is building His church, and He is doing it through many different ecclesiastical bodies.