Simeon was a fifth-century monk who subjected himself to severe practices of asceticism (self denial & self restraint) in his quest for what he thought was holiness. He became somewhat of a celebrity in his day, widely known for his extreme practices of depriving himself of the basic necessities of life. Crowds began to seek him out for advice and prayer.
Unable to escape the world horizontally, he attempted to do it vertically. He climbed up a pillar among some Syrian ruins with a narrow platform at the top, determined that there he would live out his earthly days. With meager food and drink brought to him by boys from the village, he lived atop the pillar for 39 years, refusing to come down even for his own mother’s funeral. There, consistent with his wish, he died.
“Saint Simeon the Stylite” inspired many isolationist imitators, and pillar-sitting became quite popular for a time. Others apparently bought into his philosophy – that the best way to avoid contamination from the world is to avoid contact with the world.
The problem is, Jesus had a larger agenda for his followers than just not being contaminated by the world. In His prayer recorded for us in John 17 (including eighteen mentions of “the world”), He made it clear that He desired us to remain pure and obedient, yet fully engaged in a redemptive mission to the hurting people in the world.
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15-18)
We don’t achieve “sanctification” by climbing atop a pillar and isolating ourselves from unbelievers. Rather, we live in the world, but we march to the beat of a different drummer. Our ethics, our values, our purpose in life – all of these are distinct from the unbelieving world around us and derived from our daily study of God’s unchanging Word. This is the sanctification Jesus asked the Father to grant us: obedient to the Word, yet still connected in redemptive mission to those who need to hear the gospel. Are you sanctified . . . or just sitting on a pole? (Sam Harbin, president Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary)