How Does God Physically Connect With His People?

Gary Chapman
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Evidence that God speaks the love language of physical touch is seen throughout the Bible—both Old Testament and New Testament. Let’s explore just a few of the ways we see God’s physical touch on display.

Wrestling with God

Genesis 32 records the account of Jacob on his way to returning to Esau, the brother from whom he had been estranged many years. Remembering how he had mistreated his brother and not knowing Esau’s attitude after all that time, Jacob prayed. As he did, a man arrived and began to wrestle with him.

Perceiving the stranger to be a spiritual presence and messenger of God, Jacob held on to him and pleaded for a blessing. The mysterious figure did indeed bless Jacob, but first “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched” as they wrestled. Jacob understood he was having an encounter with God as evidenced by his words in Genesis 32:25, 30: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The next morning Jacob was limping, which indicated that his experience was not simply a dream. He had been physically touched by God, and the event was a major turning point in his life.

Glowing from God’s presence

Moses also encountered God in a way that affected him physically. When he descended the mountain after God had given him the Ten Commandments, his face was radiant, although he didn’t realize it. But it was clearly evident to other people—so much so that he had to place “a veil over his face” (Exodus 34:29, 33).

Jesus’ public ministry

The biblical account of the life of Jesus shows that He frequently used physical touch as a love language. As He taught in the villages, parents would bring little children to have Him touch them (see Mark 10:13). His disciples first rebuked the people, thinking that Jesus was too busy for children. But Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then He took the children in His arms and blessed them (Mark 10:15; see verse 16).

A number of Jesus’ miracles involved physical touch as well. One man who had been blind from birth was asked how he had regained his sight. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see” (John 9:11). Two other blind men once asked for Jesus’ help. That time He touched their eyes and their sight was restored (See Matthew 9:27, 29-30).

On other occasions Jesus went against all social protocol to touch “unclean” lepers, yet as He did, they were immediately cured of the disease. And one time when Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with fever, Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her (See Matthew 8:2-3, 15).

Jesus also expressed the love language of touch to the twelve disciples. While Peter, James, and John were on a mountain with Jesus, His appearance underwent a stunning transformation. Three of the Gospels record this event, commonly referred to as the Transfiguration. This is Matthew’s account from Matthew 17:2-3:

His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. . . . A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (See also Mark 9:2-10 and Luke 9:28-36)

Washing the disciples’ feet

One of Jesus’ most profound instances of using physical touch to convey love took place during His last supper with the disciples. What makes this event so important is that the gospel account prefaced it with Jesus’ intention:

Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (John 13:1-4)

Jesus next filled a basin with water and began to wash His disciples’ feet. He dried each man’s feet with the towel. After He had finished, Jesus dressed once more and returned to His place. Then He explained His actions in John 13:12-15, 17:

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. . . . Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Here Jesus demonstrated two of the five love languages: acts of service and physical touch. It was common practice in Jesus’ day that visiting guests would have their feet washed by the household servant. Jesus took the role of the servant and lovingly washed the feet of His disciples. No doubt the touch of His hands was refreshing and restoring.

Followers of Jesus throughout the centuries have gone beyond mere words and used physical touch in their ministries. Someone once told Mother Teresa that he would not touch a leper for a million dollars. She replied, “Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for the love of God.”[1]

The ministry of the apostles

After Jesus returned to His Father, God continued to work through the believers in the early church. They gladly carried on the serving, touching, and healing ministry of Jesus. For example, one day Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. At the gate, they encountered a man who had been crippled from birth, and he was asking for money. Notice Peter’s response in Acts 3:6-10:

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

The crippled man, after being touched by God through the hands of Peter and John, reciprocated his love by hugging the two apostles. An astonished crowd assembled, and Peter said, “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we have made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” Peter described the death of Jesus (“the Holy and Righteous One”) and explained that God had raised Him from the dead. Then he added, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12-13, 16).

[1] José Luis Gonzalez-Balado, Mother Teresa: In My Own Words (Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1996), 35.

For Further Reading:

God Speaks Your Love Language

by Gary Chapman

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