Simeon has his spiritual descendants today among Christians who believe they should have as little contact with the non-Christian world as possible, shunning all secular television, music, film, and literature. Some believers even avoid friendship with unbelievers altogether. After all, referring to unbelievers, doesn’t Paul say in 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from them”?
Is this what it looks like to be light in the world? No. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that a wholesale withdrawal from everything in the world that is not Christian is not what separation from the world means:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Cor. 5:9–10)
It seems that some in Corinth may have taken these words to mean that they never had to withdraw from any kind of interaction with non-Christians. This became a particular problem when they were invited to the local pagan temple for dinner. In the ancient world, temple complexes had small dining rooms where hosts could invite friends for a meal (Corinth had at least thirteen temples like this). The meat on the menu would be from the sacrifices offered to the god or goddess of the temple, and prayers would be offered to that deity in the course of the meal. It was one thing to go to an unbeliever’s home and eat meat bought in the marketplace that may have been sacrificed to an idol—Paul doesn’t forbid that (1 Cor. 10:27)—but eating in an idol’s temple is participating with unbelievers in an act of pagan worship, something Paul describes as being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Imagine two animals being yoked together to pull a plow—one is a massive, powerful ox and the other is a domestic cat. That’s the picture Paul is using, and his point is that there is no way such utterly different creatures could ever work closely together in any kind of harmony. It would be the height of folly to try to make them. An ox and a cat may be able to live together on the same farm, each benefiting in different ways from the contribution the other makes to the running of the farm. But they cannot be yokefellows—they need to be separated.