I want to introduce you to Simon. Simon is from Turkey and is a Christian. He became a Christian at the age of 13 having read Matthew’s gospel. Ever since Simon has been passionate about Christianity. In many ways he is a fairly typical Christian … except for 37 years of his life his lived on a small platform on top of a tall pole.
The person I am talking about is Simon (or Simeon) Stylites, who lived in the fourth century AD. Stylites wasn’t his surname, it was a description – stylites means ‘pillar’. Simon thought that the best way to follow Jesus would be to withdraw from everyone around him. He did this in various ways. Most famously, he lived the last 37 years at the top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria. 15 metres off the ground, he lived, ate and slept on a platform one metre square. He died in his 70s still at the top of his pillar.
The circumstances surrounding Simon are a bit more complex than I have just described, but it does raise the question: Is that what being a Christian is really all about? Does following Jesus mean avoiding other people?
At times, that would seem to be the easiest path, we have to admit! Human relationships are complicated, difficult and messy, even at the best of time. Trying to navigate the needs and emotions of others can be tiring and we might be tempted to wonder if living life at the top of a pole would be so much simpler!
Of course, as Christians, we are not all called to life our lives on top of our individual poles. Relationships, and connecting with others, lies at the heart of what it means to live as a Christian. Jesus doesn’t call us to follow him as lone rangers; he calls us into his family, the church, with all its mess and complexity.
We see that reflected in many ways throughout the New Testament. Look at these verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2–3)
First of all, Paul gives a list of instructions on how to live in relationship with one another. It’s very telling that the New Testament contains a number of these kind of commands. That they are commanded shows that they don’t come naturally. We don’t drift into Godly relationships with one another, but we need to be reminded to be humble, gentle and patience with others. That needs to be said and needs to be said often!
Also, notice that Paul says “Make every effort…” Not only does he recognise that it doesn’t come naturally to us, he also recognises that it isn’t easy!
Life in relationship with others takes effort. We might long for the easy, effortless life (whether that feels like living up a pole or something else). But Jesus does not call us to an effort-free discipleship; he asks us to put effort into walking with Him. And part of walking with Jesus is walking with others too.
I don’t imagine that living up a pole in the desert was easy, or that Simon did so for the easy, effortless life. But let’s not think longingly of a Christian discipleship that is on our own, avoiding others and keeping distant from messy relationships. Let’s make every effort to walk alongside others, and ask God for his Spirit’s grace to be patient, gentle and loving as we bear with one another along the way.