Over the years I have heard a lot of people make a big deal out of this, asking, if we are going to be so picky about things, why we don’t go around kissing one another all the time. They usually stand there smiling, completely satisfied with themselves for having “caught” us. It is perfectly easy to answer. We can find many different greetings in the scriptures, all of which appear to be acceptable to God--kissing, embracing, bowing, or simply speaking to one another with standard greetings of the day. Greetings vary from culture to culture and by not specifying one, God has given us tacit authority to practice them all.
As usual, these folks have focused on the wrong part of the phrase. It isn’t the “kiss” that we should emphasize; it is the type of kiss—a holy one. In fact, the choice of greeting in this illustration seems the perfect one to use since it was a dissembling kiss that betrayed our Lord. Today we Americans would simply say, “Greet one another with a holy handshake.”
So what makes a greeting “holy?” Sincerity obviously, and especially so if we are contrasting it with a kiss of betrayal. Do we shake hands with good feelings in our hearts, or is there a metaphorical knife hidden in the other hand, ready to stab the person we seem to be accepting as soon as they turn around? Will we say pleasant things to their faces, then slander them when they leave? Or perhaps less obvious but more prevalent, will we call one another “brethren” when we really don’t want to be around one another any longer than we must?
A lot of people hang on to agape with glee, spouting that handy definition, “seeking the other’s good whether you like him or not.” It’s almost like they are shouting, “Oh goody! I don’t have to like that brother after all!”
Pardon me? “It’s not phileo,” they say, “so it doesn’t mean we really have to like one another.” What then do they do with all the passages that talk about brotherly love and kind-heartedness? Do they just cut them out of their Bibles?
For one thing, we have made too big a distinction in those two words. In the early first century, agape was not looked on with the approval we do now. How exactly would you feel if someone said to you, “I care what happens to you, but I don’t much like you?” I think I might be insulted, and that is one reason Peter had such a hard time in John 21 accepting Jesus’ question, “Do you agape me?” To him, it was far more important to phileo the Lord. It took the rest of the century and into the next for that word to become the deeper love we often talk about.
Do a little research and you will find that the two words are often used interchangeably in the New Testament, much of which was written closer to the middle of the first century, when the meaning of agape was still evolving. In 1 Cor 8:3 and 16:22 we are told to love God. One uses agape, the other phileo. In Eph 5:25 and Titus 2:4 we are told to love our spouses. One uses agape, the other phileo. In John 13:23 and 20:2 we hear about “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Guess what? That’s right, one uses agape and the other phileo. That little tidbit only took me about 5 minutes to look up.
You can tell a lot about people by what they emphasize in the scriptures—their pet peeves, their personal interests, even who they have a hard time loving. Make sure that your greetings, whether a handshake, a kiss, a hug, or a simple wave of the hand, are holy.
Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren [phileo + adelphoi], love [agapao] one another from the heart fervently, I Pet 1:22.