In general, fellowship is a close association, companionship, or friendship with others sharing mutual interests.
In a spiritual sense, fellowship can exist in two forms:
One is fellowship with God. God desires and longs for this fellowship.
The other is fellowship with others who share a common faith. God desires his followers to enjoy this type of fellowship, as well.
Last week we talked about the four times Paul said to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” In another curious reference, mentioned only once, he mentions receiving “the right hand of fellowship.”
In modern day context, this phrase seems like a euphemism for a handshake, but I doubt they did that two thousand years ago. With a little imagination I could assume it is a sideways hug of affection using the right hand and arm, but then I have an active imagination.
Several years ago a church we attended used this phrase whenever members joined our assembly. Another use, though my wife disagrees, ties this line to the ritual passing of the fellowship pads during the church service. Each person, member and visitor alike, was expected to enter his or her name, contact info, and any special needs. Presumably, someone reviewed and compiled all the data each week.
Yet in the Bible context given, “the right hand of fellowship” emerges as more than a greeting, recognition, or formality, but as an honor or affirmation, a spiritual one at that.
While we may not have a good understanding of what it is to extend the right hand of fellowship, I’m quite sure it wasn’t a trivial or rote experience but one of significance. The Bible only notes two people who received it: Paul and Barnabas.
May we follow their example and then perhaps one day we might also receive the right hand of fellowship.