Here Peter refers to how a cultural practice should be done in the church. The obvious danger of cultural practices is that they become formal rather than spiritual. Yet it is obvious that a kiss is a display of friendship and affection.
We may not realise it but a failure to do little things can have consequences. For example, consider the effect on one’s witness if a neighbour observed two of Peter’s readers meeting and not greeting one another with a kiss. The neighbour would assume that something was wrong between them, even if there was not. A simple failure to perform an expected practice will affect our public witness.
How was this kiss performed? After all, we can kiss a person on the lips or on the hands or on the cheeks. I suspect it was a kiss on the cheeks. This action is not limited to men kissing women or to women kissing women; it also included men kissing men (it is common today, for example, for men in Mediterranean countries to kiss one another on the cheek). Jesus rebuked a Pharisee for not welcoming him with a kiss (Luke 7:45). When Paul parted from the elders of Ephesus, they all embraced him and kissed him (Acts 20:37).
Justin Martyr and Origen state that mutual kissing used to follow times of prayer in early church services, although it seems to have been confined to the same gender. Augustine also says that giving one another such a kiss was part of a worship service in the early church.
It is important to note that this statement of Peter’s is a command. He requires his readers to express their love to one another through a cultural activity. Further, it is a comprehensive command because he expects them all to do it. And it should be a consistent action, one that is done whenever Christians meet.
Peter’s desire for his Christian readers was that they would know peace. This peace is unique to Christians; no-one else can have it. Sadly, it can be undermined by Christians through their wrong actions (it is interesting that a desire for enjoyed peace follows a command to express love). Yet it should be the uniform experience of all of them, no matter their circumstances. After all, Peter’s readers faced an uncertain future, but they could have peace.
As we come to the end of our study of this letter, can we say what its overall message is for us in the twenty-first century? No doubt more than four details could be mentioned, but I will highlight the four that have convicted me. First, we should be heavenly-minded – our eyes should be on the world to come, and this theme runs through the letter. Second, we should be ready for opposition to our expressions of faith in Jesus. Third, we should imitate the example of Jesus against our opponents and towards one another. Fourth, we should rejoice in Christ, our Saviour who died for us on the cross, and who is preparing glory for us in the world to come.