Commentary: The Right Hand of Fellowship
Given 09-May-20; 13 minutes
I am going to start out this commentary today citing a short section from an article written about pandemics, hoping to put this commentary in its proper perspective. This article runs in line with Clyde Finklea’s February 22 “Pale Horse” commentary.
Jesus Christ plainly prophesied that pestilence of major proportions would arise in the last days (Matthew 24:7). The last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, pestilence is a pale, or greenish-yellow, horse ridden by a being called Death.—Hades, or the grave, follows after. They are given the power to kill one quarter of the earth's population by means of war, famine, plague and beasts (Revelation 6:7-8).
It presents a striking scenario: War often causes famine. Malnutrition and starvation breed disease, which under the right conditions erupts into epidemics. The bites of animals and insects transmit certain diseases, and sickness and weakness make people easier targets for attack by hungry wild beasts. Though it may be difficult to imagine events like these in our day the Bible shows the progression and the certainty of the prophecy.
Quite a bit further down in the article:
The U.S., said to have the best health-care system in the world, is unprepared for any major outbreak of viral infections. Robert Shope, professor of epidemiology and committee co-chairman of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, reports that the nation is vulnerable to an outbreak comparable to the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic that killed 20 million worldwide. "It can happen again," he warns! (Insight, October 11, 1993, p.16).
Frederick A. Murphy, former director of the Centers of Disease Control's National Center for Infectious Diseases, believes that an influenza-like disease that "transmits fast and broadly" is the most likely candidate for the next pandemic. And the damage will be done before America's "porous line of defense against viral invaders" can respond (Ibid., p. 19).
Again, we should not be surprised. God warned Israel in their wilderness wanderings about what would happen if they did not obey His commandments. "I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever. . . . [W]hen you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you" (Leviticus 26:16, 25; cf. Deuteronomy 28)
. . .
As we hear the approaching hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen growing ever louder, we have only one refuge from their relentless onslaught.
Brethren, this bold prophesy that we may very possibly be seeing coming to fruition today was written by a fellow by the name of Richard Ritenbaugh 26 years ago in the Prophecy Watch section of the January 1994 Forerunner!
Many of you were not even alive at that time or were too young to remember, and the rest of us may have clearly forgotten that we have been looking to God’s sovereign authority to bring these things to a head most of our lives within God’s church in whatever way He sees fit!
Unfortunately, many of us are not looking at the big picture as God has given us the eyes to see, but are overwhelmed with anxiety by the very real possibility of danger that is around, by anger at bumbling leadership, by a myriad of conspiracy theories, or by the divisive cries that grow louder every day!
As I said, I cited that section from Richard’s article to put this commentary in its proper perspective. Regardless of what seems to be going on out there, and regardless of what men are doing about it, God is in charge. God is continuing to bring His plan and purpose along as He sees fit! And, as He has warned us all along, “. . . so that when we see these things, we will know that He told us,” just as Jesus told His disciples regarding the unjust circumstances surrounding His own death.
With this in mind, I want to look at something we should be wary of, as an undercurrent riptide of this time that may be subtly pulling God’s people apart from one another when we should know better, as we diligently try holding onto one another and the truth of God’s Word.
Please understand that what we are going to look at in this short commentary is something that deserves our prayerful consideration, but it is also something that may or may not be suitable to all situations and occasions, and most importantly, it cannot become a point of self-righteous judgment. However, it is surely something for God’s people to consider while understanding everything is directly under God’s control and He is watching carefully how we navigate through these times of crisis and division.
The following was from CNBC Online's "Health and Wellness," published April 9, 2020:
White House advisor Dr. Fauci says handshaking needs to stop even when pandemic ends—other experts agree
White House health advisor Anthony Fauci gave insight on what the “new normal” might be for Americans after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and it includes giving up handshaking indefinitely.
Speaking on The Wall Street Journal podcast on Tuesday, Fauci said Americans will have to “gradually come back” from this pandemic and won’t be able to jump back into their regular lives “with both feet.”
The new normal, he says, will include “compulsive hand-washing and the other is the end of handshaking.”
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” Fauci said.
Fauci made a similar plea in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group on April 7.
“As a society, just forget about shaking hands,” Fauci said. “We don’t need to shake hands. We’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.”
And Fauci isn’t alone in his opinion of handshaking.
Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group and spokesperson for Infectious Diseases Society of America, says he has been trying to put an end to handshakes for nearly three decades.
“It’s an outdated custom,” Poland says. “Many cultures have learned that you can greet one another without touching each other.”
Poland says when you shake another person’s hand, you have “no idea” where that hand has been and you are exposing yourself to “elements of danger” like viruses and different kinds of bacteria.
Instead Poland suggests tilting or bowing your head to greet another person like people did many decades ago. “When men greeted other people [back in the day], they raised or tipped their hat,” he says.
Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health in New York tells Make It he agrees with Fauci too.
He thinks Americans need to start implementing other ways to greet each other “like [with] a head bob or wave of a hand. This act would maintain proper distance, avoid contact and potential spread of COVID-19,” Farber says.
Peter Pitts, former FDA associate commissioner, says shaking hands transmits germs and viruses “as swiftly as kissing and hugging” and until we develop a vaccine against COVID-19, the new normal will have to be “verbal greetings and long-sleeved elbow bumps.”
Brethren, there are some red flags popping up a little at a time these days, and one of them is a movement against embracing and the right hand of fellowship. Does God really want us to allow ourselves to be so full of fear that we should quit offering the right hand of fellowship or embracing one another as Christ and the apostles clearly did?
In Galatians 2:9, the Apostle Paul refers to the bond of trust cemented in the right hand of fellowship with the church leaders at Jerusalem when he and Barnabas were sent out from them. As translated from the Good News Bible, Galatians 2:6-9 reads,
Galatians 2:6-9 those leaders, I say, made no new suggestions to me. On the contrary, they saw that God had given me the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the task of preaching the gospel to the Jews. For by God's power I was made an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was made an apostle to the Jews. James, Peter, and John, who seemed to be the leaders, recognized that God had given me this special task; so they shook hands with Barnabas and me, as a sign that we were all partners. We agreed that Barnabas and I would work among the Gentiles and they among the Jews.
Brethren, perhaps this seems like a little thing, but we have evidence throughout God’s word that touching, embracing, and the right hand of fellowship are pleasing to God. So, are we going to carefully consider if we should turn away from this?
I was raised during a time when men like my own father, who was in business, would look another man in the eye and shake his hand. That exchange was more binding to those men than any written contract ever would be.
We must be careful to walk through these days in a way that is truly in line with godliness and not let ourselves be pulled apart.
That being said, of course, God’s word also tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:5 that there is “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” But we cannot allow ourselves to be swept up in the solutions of men that are not in line with God! Just as we cannot allow ourselves to self-righteously stand in judgment of a brother or sister that has his or her reasons for considering a certain time not to be that time to embrace or shake hands.
Judgment is now on the household of God and He is carefully watching and listening to what we are doing and saying. This is the time when He is grading papers as He is seeing if we really love Him, love His Word, and love each other. Don’t forget Malachi 3:16 and God’s word that He is carefully involved with what is going on among us.
There is quite a bit of evidence that, although this is definitely a rapidly-spreading virus and many have died and will die from it, the solutions that men have applied to it have either purposely or foolishly been making matters worse. However, the bottom line is that there is a cascading effect that is not only weakening our God-given immune systems, but is literally destroying the economic and social structure worldwide and causing ever-growing division. But brethren, we cannot be divided!
So the question for us is, are we—or are we not—going to walk according to God’s way of life through these difficult times, seeking to repent of our own sins to be in line with God and each other, in a world where repentance and unity are not even given a second thought?
Are we going to continue to carefully extend the right hand of fellowship and affectionately embrace one another in a way that is appropriately in line with God’s will, or are we going to allow solutions of men to pull us farther apart?
There certainly is a “time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,” but we need to look for the opportunities to continue to extend the right hand of fellowship and embrace without fear.
Richard closed that 1994 article with these words:
Surely He shall deliver you . . . from the perilous pestilence. . . . His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid . . . of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. . . . Because you have made the LORD . . . your habitation, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling. (Psalm 91:3-10)
As the Horsemen converge on this nation from every side, we must keep our focus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), forbidding any distraction to hinder us. In doing so, we will be prepared for both the troubles and the joys that lie just ahead.