“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” — 2 Corinthians 13:12, 13 (ESV)
If anyone ever understood the importance of the fellowship of the saints, it was the Apostle Paul. In his epistles, Paul revels in the themes of peace and joy in the fellowship of the Spirit in the Church. Fellowship, as taught in Scripture, involves experiencing the common life that believers have in the Lord Jesus and with one another. According to our Westminster Standards, our fellowship is chiefly revealed at congregational worship in the presence of the Lord. In holy fellowship, no one member stands alone unto himself, but partakes of all the benefits of Christ’s redemption in the unity of the Holy Spirit within the body, the church. This is why the sharing of our possessions with poor brothers in the church and relieving them financially is an essential part of our fellowship.
One easy way to facilitate Christian fellowship is to greet other believers. This is done by faith and in love, that is, by using a judgment of charity. Love “believes all things, and hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Love believes that another person’s interest in Christ is sincere despite having little to no knowledge of them. Paul greeted not only the church as a whole, but when he had knowledge of a particular saint, he would greet him particularly, calling him out by name in his letters. Paul, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews, all did likewise (Ro. 16:16, 21- 23, 1 Co. 16:20, 1 Th. 5:26, 1 Pe. 5:14, Phi. 4:21, 22. Phile. 23, 24, He. 13:24, 1 Pe. 5:13, 2 Jno. 13, and 3 Jno. 14). The apostles were convinced that the fellowship of the saints is an essential teaching of Scripture.
What are we taught regarding greeting other believers in Scripture? First, you need to be convinced that the Lord requires you to keep holy fellowship in the church. The Lord himself established our fellowship in his church at great cost, and now requires that you maintain it. Second, you need to be convinced that keeping Christian fellowship is a spiritual discipline and not merely a natural discipline. As such, we all fail to fellowship as we should; this means that confession of sin, repentance, and prayer to God for new grace and obedience are necessary. Third, you need to resolve and plan ahead to greet others as the occasion presents itself. The Lord is sovereign, and he will make a way for your greetings, so be prepared. Finally, the commandment to greet others is a positive one, meaning that it is always right to greet others as the occasion presents itself — not that you need to keep greeting others continuously and without ceasing. It is the Sabbath after all, so be sensible in your fresh zeal to greet others!
What are some ways in which we can greet one another and demonstrate Christian fellowship? Below are a few suggestions:
Plan to spend a few minutes lingering in the building after the worship service each week. If you bolt out of the church after the worship week upon week, you hardly display the affection that saints should demonstrate one to another.
If you are new to the church, do not assume that you are the only one that is new. Take the initiative in greeting others. There is not one verse in Scripture that excuses a visiting believer from greeting other believers.
Beware of spending all your time after worship speaking to your best friends in the church, to the neglect of others. There is nothing more contrary to true Christian fellowship than cliques and narrow friendships that exclude other believers in the church. By this we demonstrate little more than a natural human affection, common even to the unregenerate—who does not love those that love them in return? So look for persons that you do not know very well, or perhaps you have not seen before in church, and greet them. Make it a priority to know their names, the names of their spouses and children, and their vocations.
Train your children to introduce themselves politely to others, and how to greet visitors, especially new children. Remember how awkward it felt to be the new kid at school? Remember mercy, and render it to others. Lead your children into the practice of Christianity as well as catechizing them.
If you are tongue-tied or prone to shyness, look for someone more extroverted or loquacious than you, and ask him to go with you to greet the visitor or new person. Fellowship is incumbent upon all believers across all personality and skill types, but one doesn’t have to do it alone.
Do not assume that others will do the greeting on your behalf. We have very friendly greeters assigned to that task every Lord’s Day, but think of yourself as their helpers, not the greeters as yours.
Do not assume that our reputation as a friendly church is already well established. Even the friendliest church in the world could be friendlier. We are instructed to abound more and more in love! (Phil 1:9).
Take time to check your conscience. If everyone in the church was only as welcoming of new people as you are, what kind of church would this become? Is this the kind of church God would display to the world as the hospitable Bride of Christ?
Our fellowship in the church also extends to our missionaries in the field. Missionaries regularly send us their letters, letting us know their circumstances and requesting various kinds of support from us as needed. But is it not troubling that few of our missionaries know any of us personally and by name? Their letters rarely call out particular persons in our congregation, as Paul’s letters did. Since we are partners with our missionaries, we need to get to know them personally, and greet them regularly. We can begin by replying to their letters, by writing personal letters to them on occasion. At this time, our church is gathering letters from members to send to our missionary partners in Italy. This family has had a very challenging year with their health and their mission and would greatly appreciate a friendly, personal greeting.
Fellowship is a spiritual reality in Christ that must find expression in the church. What can be simpler than to begin to enjoy a fuller fellowship with all the saints by greeting one another as a regular discipline, especially by greeting people that we do not know? Perhaps after we become more proficient in our practice, we might advance to the manner of the greeting that Paul warmly enjoins — the “holy kiss”!