March 8-9, 2003
Can You Hear Me Now?
Part 5: Physical Touch

Opening: After the first song, show the Pepsi commercial.

We laugh at that commercial because it’s so true.  It shows the schizophrenic nature of our attitudes about physical touch.  On the one hand, many of us are uptight about being touched—we want our space—don’t touch me. How many of you feel that way? (Give those folks a hug!) On the other hand, physical touch is such a natural part of life that we can’t live without it. It leaks out of us, especially when our emotions are strong, in moments of great joy (like you saw on the commercial), or great sorrow or compassion or love.

Physical touch is one of the main ways we express and receive love, and for millions of people, this is their primary love language.  Today, we’re going to see if we can learn to speak it better.


If you wanted to communicate love to someone, how would you do it?  Answers. There are lots of different ways to communicate love.  And the better we are at each of those, the stronger our relationships.

That is the thesis of Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. He says that everyone has a preferred way to receive love and express love—he calls them love languages, and says that there are five.

  • Words of affirmation.
  • Quality time.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Acts of service.
  • Physical touch.

If we want to communicate love with each of the important people in our lives, we need to become multi-lingual in love. We need to learn their love languages, each of the five love languages well enough to love anyone God puts in our life.


1. Jesus and physical touch.


Jesus often touched people, and they often touched him, so there are lots of stories about Jesus and physical touch.  I’ve picked these three because each one gives a different insight into this love language.

Matthew 8:1-4 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

3Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Does anybody remember the TV series or movie, “The Untouchables”?  That’s what lepers were: untouchables.  Because leprosy was thought to be highly contagious, lepers were forbidden to touch others or be touched.  If a leper came near healthy people, he had to cover his face and cry, “Unclean,” as a warning to others to stay away.  No touch at all.  So when this poor man came and knelt before Jesus, he had probably not been touched by healthy hands in months or years.  No touch.

Then Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  Why did Jesus touch this untouchable?  It wasn’t to heal him, because Jesus could have done that without touching him.  There are other stories where Jesus merely said the word and a person was healed. So why did Jesus touch him? Because the man needed to be touched.  I think Jesus knew that this man not only wanted to be healed, but to be loved—to be touched. Jesus gave this man something no one else was willing to give him: a physical touch.  Jesus took a social and physical risk to touch this man.  By touching him, Jesus exposed himself to the disease, and made himself unclean for a day, unable to go to worship. 

Here is love: Jesus touches an untouchable.  Are there any untouchables in your world?  Someone who may be starving for love because nobody else will touch them?

ILL: When I was a youth pastor in Eugene, it seems like God always made sure we had a couple of untouchables in our youth ministry—kids who were outcasts at school, kids no one else wanted to touch.  Kids like Vicki Booth.  Vicki was mentally retarded, and she was large. Not fat, just a big-boned solid girl. She used to love to sneak up behind me and surprise me by jumping on my back!  Or she would sit at my feet in Bible studies at Noel’s house and tie my shoes together.  Vicki was loud and had very little social sense.  She spoke up often and out of turn, and her laugh boomed out at unexpected and inappropriate times.  When she got a cold, she would sniff and snort loudly—we discovered no one had ever taught her how to blow her nose.  She was a handful.  I wasn’t the only one she jumped on; she did it to lots of the boys, usually knocking them to the ground.  Why do you think she jumped on people?  She wanted to be touched.  Sometimes Vicki would come up to me while I was talking with someone else and say, “Hi Joe,” and stand there shuffling back and forth.  I knew what she wanted.  So I’d put my arm around her shoulder while I finished my other conversation. Vicki wanted to be touched.

Who touches the Vicki’s?  Who touches the untouchables?  Jesus did, because touch expresses love.

Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Parents wanted Jesus to touch their babies. Why do you think they wanted Jesus to touch their children?  To bless them, to love them, to pray for them.  Touch communicates.  And even though His disciples thought that Jesus was too important and his time too valuable to be wasted on children, Jesus jumped at the chance to touch these children.  He took them in his arms—he held them and hugged them—and put his hands on them and blessed them.  Can’t you see Jesus with his arms around these little kids, whispering in their ears while He hugged them. It might have looked something like this: picture of Jesus with child.

To bless literally means to speak well of or to praise.  Jesus praised or complimented the children—what language is that? Words of affirmation. Here Jesus expressed love in two languages: words of affirmation and physical touch.  He touched them and blessed them.

Luke 7:36-50 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

In this story, Jesus is the touch-ee, not the touch-er. This woman who had lived a sinful life barges into a dinner party, begins weeping on Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair, perfuming them and kissing them!  It’s a good thing Jesus was comfortable being touched! “What are you doing? Stop that!” This is a very unusual form of touch—very intimate.  I don’t let just anyone kiss my feet!  Why did this woman touch Jesus this way?  Love!  She was expressing her love through physical touch.  That’s how Jesus received it. 

Jesus was comfortable giving and receiving love through physical touch; we want to learn to do the same.


2. Love Language #5: physical touch.


A. The importance of physical touch.

I said last weekend that all of us need some of each of these five love languages. We all need some words of affirmation, some quality time, some gifts, some acts of service, and some physical touch.  Everyone needs to be touched.  It’s been proven that babies need to be touched to thrive.  Babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who go long periods of time without being touched. And with no touch at all, babies often don’t survive.  They literally die without touch.

ILL: A hospital found one of its young resident students had a marvelous effect on children. They responded to him with delight and would do things for him and yield to his doctoring in a way that they wouldn’t do for any other person on the staff. They assigned a nurse to discover what the secret of this young resident was. It wasn’t until the second week when she was on night shift that she found out the secret. Every night on his last round he would kiss, and hug, and tuck in every one of the children. It was the touch that made the difference.

Touch communicates love without words. Your body is a touching machine! It is made to feel touch—every inch of your body has sensitive tactile receptors that when touched send impulses to your brain.  You were made to be touched.  Your body and spirit crave it.

ILL: One man went to the barber every week for a haircut, sometimes twice a week.  He obviously didn’t need a haircut that often, so the barber finally asked him why he came in so often.  The man was embarrassed, but said, “Do you really want to know why?  I’m lonely.  I don’t have anyone who touches me, and getting my hair cut is a socially acceptable way to be touched.  I just need to feel a human touch.” 

Touch is essential.  Everyone needs some.  That’s why every society has some form of physical touching as a means of greeting.  What is it in our culture?  Hugging for women, shaking hands for men.  Why do we touch like that?  It expresses warmth, affection, love, and makes a connection between people.

ILL: One therapist told a convention of psychologists that people need to be touched.  She said that they need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day to be healthy, and 12 hugs a day to thrive!

We need physical touch.

ILL: Donna Huck, who teaches at North Central High School, attended a workshop in which the presenter said that many of the problems in our schools are caused by a lack of touch and could be solved with appropriate touch. Later, some of Donna’s students stopped working, so she decided to try an experiment.  She began to touch them.  She stood at the door one day and gave each student a paper clip and made sure to touch their hands.  She would walk up the aisles between their desks and bump against them.  She’d lean over their desk to look at their work and put a hand on their shoulder. She’d tap them as they walked by. At first they said, “You’re weird, Miss Huck.”  But within two weeks, the morale in the class turned around and they started working again.

Physical touch is important.  All of us need to be touched, but especially those whose primary love language is physical touch.


B. Physical touch is more than sex.

Here’s the hang-up for lots of people: when they think of touch, they think of sex. Sexual intercourse is just one dialect of this love language—a dialect that is appropriate for married couples. I have one wife—we speak this dialect.  But I don’t speak it with anyone else, and I have lots of other important relationships in my life. This means that in all the other relationships in my life, touching is non-sexual.  It’s true for you too; most touching is non-sexual.

Many men assume that physical touch is their primary love language simply because their desire for sex is so strong.  But sexual desire is very different from the emotional need to be loved. The male sex drive is more physical than emotional in nature.  The desire for sexual intercourse is stimulated by the buildup of sperm cells and seminal fluid in the seminal vesicles.  When they are full, there is a physical pressure for release, which stimulates your desire for sexual intercourse.  This is a very powerful physical urge for men, which is why a satisfying physical relationship with his wife is such a big deal for most guys.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that physical touch is your love language.  It may just mean that you enjoy sex with your wife. And husbands, if the only time you touch your wife is when you want sex, oops.  Big boo boo.  It’s important to touch, to hug, to kiss just to communicate love, not as a jump start to sex.

So even in marriage, not all touching is sexual.  And in all other relationships outside of marriage, touching is non-sexual in nature.  Don’t equate touching with sex. 

Look at the back of your outline.  We’ve included a list of some of your ideas about meaningful expressions of love by physical touch.  It’s a great list. (Read it.)  Most of those are non-sexual touches because all of our relationships but one are non-sexual.

Hugs: Did you know that there is a World Hug Week?  The sponsoring group believes the world would be a better place if we’d all hug our loved ones every day!

Kisses: Did you know that men who kiss their wives goodbye each morning

  • Miss less work because of illness.
  • Have fewer auto accidents on the way to work.
  • Earn 20-30% more and,
  • Live 5 years longer than those who don’t.

Kissing also produces a hormone in our brain that elevates our mood.  Smooch and feel good!


C. Crisis and physical touch.

ILL: Not long ago, I visited a friend in the hospital, who was facing a life-threatening medical crisis.  When he’s healthy, this guy is a man’s man.  He’s a big, strong guy who drives a big truck and hunts and fishes—not what you’d picture as a touchy-feely guy.  When I visited him in the hospital, he couldn’t talk, so I sat next to his bed for a few minutes and talked with him and prayed with him.  The whole time, I held his hand.  And this big strong guy was fine with that. 

He’s home now, and the next time we visit, I can promise we won’t hold hands.  In fact, we’ve never held hands before, and may not ever again.  But it was the most natural thing in the world there in the hospital.  Why?  Because it was a crisis, and nothing communicates love in a crisis like physical touch.

In times of crisis, we instinctively touch each other, and often, those touches say more than words ever could.  Do you remember the story I told you about the argument Laina and I had that ended with her in tears and me frustrated. She finally said, “Why don’t you hold me.”  And when I did, the Lord whispered, “She needs your shoulder, not your mouth.”  There are times when physical touch is the very best way to communicate love.  That’s almost always true in a crisis.  In a crisis, touch can communicate more than words.


D. Learn how others want to be touched.

Here is the most important and practical thing I can tell you about getting better at speaking this love language.  Learn how others want to be touched.  Talk about touch, about how you like to be touched, and don’t like to be touched.  Don’t assume that what brings you pleasure will do the same for them.

ILL: My wife loves back rubs.  She wants a back rub every night—the longer the better. She has never turned down a back rub.

I hate back rubs. They make me tense. If Laina assumed that I loved back rubs like she does and tried to give them to me, I’d just snap at her! But I love head rubs and foot rubs!

Everyone is different.  Take the guesswork out of physical touch by communicating. Remember, you are learning to speak the other person’s love language.  So listen and let them teach you how they want to be loved.

3. Discovering your primary love language.

For the last five weeks, we have discussed five ways of expressing love, the five love languages.

  • Words of affirmation.
  • Quality time.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Acts of service.
  • Physical touch.

Which is your primary love language? How do you most like to be loved? Read all five again.

How many of you still aren’t sure what your primary love language is?  What makes you feel most loved?  What do you desire above all else?  If those questions don’t help you identify your primary love language, maybe these will.


A. What words or actions hurt you most?

This is looking at it backwards, from the opposite angle—the negative use of love languages.

ILL: This is what helped me discover my primary love language. One day recently, Laina said something to me and I had a major overreaction.  Afterwards, after I apologized to her—again—I was reflecting on that situation, and many others like it.  And it dawned on me: those overreactions are almost always related to words.  I overreact to criticism. I don’t overreact to a lack of quality time, or not receiving a gift, or failure to do an act of service, or lack of physical touch.  I overreact to words.

Laina says my love language is being right.  At first I laughed and said, “That’s not a love language.”  But then I realized that it is a dialect of words of affirmation.  How would you like to live with me?  I have to be right to feel loved!  Pray for my wife!

I discovered my love language through the back door, by examining what hurt me, or bothered me most.  It’s a clue as to what is most important to you.


B. What do you request most?

Another approach to discovering your primary love language is to ask, “What do I request most of others?”  This is how I discovered Laina’s primary love language, quality time.  More than anything else, she asks for quality time.

  • “When will you be home tonight? Will you be home for dinner?”
  • “Have you asked the kids about their day?”
  • “What are we going to do tonight?”
  • “Tell me about your day. How were your meetings?”
  • “You’re going to be out of town this week. When will we do our date?”

All of those questions are really requests for quality time. 

What do you ask for most?  If you’re not sure, ask your spouse or child or friend, and they can probably tell you. In fact, they may hear it as nagging, and they’ll tell you right away!


C. How do you prefer to express love?

Another way to discover your primary love language is to examine what you do or say to express love to others.  Do you remember the sketch two weeks ago about the four people who gave gifts to each other?  They each gave the other person something that they liked and wanted.  We do that not just with gifts, but with love. We love others the way we want to be loved.  We express love the way we like to be loved.  Maybe you do acts of service to express love because you really wish someone would do them for you.  Or maybe you give words of affirmation because you want to be loved that way.  We often love others the way we want to be loved.


There are three questions that might help you discover your primary love language. Just this past week, we discovered that there is a love languages inventory that you can take to discover your love language.  We’ve made copies of this, and if you’d like one, you can get it from an usher on your way out.

We also gave you The Love Language Review.  This sheet provides a helpful summary of how to love people in each of the five love languages.  It gives three things to consider for each love language:

Communication: what to say.

Actions: what to do.

What to avoid.

It’s a great summary of how to love people in these five different ways. 

We have a video we want to show you to wrap things up.  Here is one couple’s story about how learning to speak each other’s love language transformed their relationship.  Show video.

Our goal for this series has been to learn each of these five love languages, and get more fluent in all of them.  Let’s get better at loving others the way they want to be loved and need to be loved.