Introduction: No Time for Greeting?
Imagine an ordinary Sunday morning. The congregation gathers as it normally does. As the pastor makes his way around to greet members who have arrived early one older member grabs his hand and pulls him in close so no one else can here. “Pastor, I think we need to stop this greeting time at the beginning of the service. And I’m not the only one. Hugging and shaking hands like that and talking; well it makes us look like a social club. Is this church a social club?” How should the pastor respond? Does greeting one another really matter to the Lord? In fact this question has many facets. Does it matter if a committee meeting, small group or board meeting begins with a warm greeting towards one another? Particularly as it relates to biblical counseling, does it matter how a counselor greets his counselee both inside and outside of the counseling room? While this paper does not provide adequate room to address this issue throughout the Bible, the book of Romans at the very least teaches plainly that it does matter how believers display their loving care to one another.
Giving My Regards, Begins with Regarding Someone Else
In Romans Paul argues masterfully for eleven chapters detailing the low regard man has for anyone or anything but himself (1:21-23). This selfish and sinful refusal to glorify God as He deserves leads to man’s condemnation and God’s wrath (2:6). In the midst of man’s failure, Paul shows that Christ while mankind remained in sin demonstrated God’s regard for all humans by dying to redeem mankind (5:8). Those who see this great regard for mankind can respond to it by turning away from sin in order to find life through unity with Christ (6:1-11). By the time Paul pens chapter twelve he has begun to explain how the truth of God’s great regard and love for mankind should affect those united to Christ as they seek to incarnate a living sacrifice of worship to Christ (12:1-2).
From this verse Paul then gives four and a half chapters of examples as to how believers can live out this new regard for Christ in their lives. In verses 12:9-21 Paul details how unity with Christ should affect the relationship believers have with one another and with the world. It should not surprise any believer that since Christ showed such regard for others, those who follow him should show similar regard for others. Verse 12:16 summarizes many of the thoughts of this section, but most importantly utilizes the key word we translate as one another. Paul begins this verse with three participial phrases which have the force as three commands which define the type of people who the final command assumes as its subject.
The first phrase speaks directly as to how believers now unite in Christ as those thinking the same about one another. Even though “one another” drew attention to this verse, one Greek word dominates the verse with it occurrence three times in various forms. This word has no consensus from scholars as to how to translate it. In its simplest sense the word means think. Normally this word communicates a positive idea of prudent or wise thinking. Even so, twice in this passage Paul uses this word in a negative fashion indicating those thinking complacently. Here then readers should understand that to think the same thing about one another shows a great deal of wisdom. No wonder then that the ESV translates this participial phrase as “live in harmony with one another” or that Jay Adams translates it as “think in harmony with one another”. Wisdom works its way out into the way that one person lives towards another. Instead of thinking that everyone “plays the same part” Paul seeks instead that we each “play harmoniously”. This of course presupposes that in our churches a great deal of diversity exists between races, genders, interests, economic status and all the rest. It further presupposes that since believers have a certain “part that we play,” that we also may need to think ahead about how we come across to others and how we want to make others feel. Thus to consider how to set someone at ease by greeting them seems the very least of what this participle has in mind.
Paul further defines believers as those who do not think complacently about high things. In this Paul foreshadows the further command that he will issue later. Even so, he carefully indicates “the high things” so as to leave room for us to understand the danger of complacent thinking about all manner of high statuses, values, positions, or prideful opinions. In the world an assumption comes that once a person rises to have any status or position that he does not have to associate with those underneath him. When believers refuse to greet one another, even if they do so only because one person does not want to associate with another, then he has complacently lifted himself above the need to become involved in the life of someone else. To the contrary then, Christians should go out of their way to make sure that they do not elevate themselves in their demeanor above those who they encounter. This comes as especially powerful word from a man who elevated himself by imprisoning and murdering Christians without regard for them at all. Even so, this word comes just as powerfully to the brother who thinks that he cannot speak to someone who has a position, privilege, or quality that others see as elevated.
The final participle phrase “but associate with the lowly” provides the perfect antithesis to the phrase which comes before it. Further, this phrase gives clear direction to those who desire to end greeting one another or meeting in small groups in favor of getting to the important aspects of worship. The Greek word translated as “association” can often have a negative connotation of getting led or carried away with something or someone. In this passage, while it retains the same meaning of getting led or carried away, it has a positive connotation of getting carried away with the lowly as opposed to living pridefully. Paul in a surprising way indicates that Christians should get carried away with the lowly tasks and humble people. Understandably, then Christians should have a resistance to social club gatherings as well as similar practices. Meeting people for the express purpose of seeing and being seen cannot characterize the type of greeting that Christians offer one another. People who seek to associate with those needing help in order to make some sort of statement about their goodness as a person also stand suspect. This sort of pandering to others while continuing to think about self cannot characterize Christian greetings. A Christian greeting should express a true and genuine concern for the other person.
Finally Paul issues to his command. Remember that the participles before insinuate a type of people who think harmoniously of one another, without elevating one above another. The apostle tells these people that they must not “think complacently of themselves.” After all, the unity believers have comes from the unity each one has with Christ. Thus, no believer should forget or take lightly the fact that he has a righteousness which does not come from his labors or his intrinsic worth. Without Christ each believer stands wretched, without hope, and without relationship to God or anyone else. This should motivate believers to express to others, even in the type of greeting used an attitude which communicates that believers share a joint dependence and assurance on Christ alone. For the biblical counselor then, even though the content of counseling must not come up, the counselor should greet the counselee in the worship service and elsewhere with genuine concern for who Christ has made that person. In the counseling room the counselor should take the necessary time to let the counselee know that he cares about the counselee more than the clock or his own agenda. His demeanor should communicate the idea that he cares most about Christ’s will for the person and session.
 Daniel Wallace. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Pg. 650-651.
 Spiros Zodhiates. The Complete Word Study Dictionary NT. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992. pg. 5431.
 Jay Adams. The Christian Counselor’s Commentary: Romans, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians. Hackettstown: Timeless Texts, 1995. Pg. 106.
 Zodhiates., 1337.