Should We Cut Ourselves Off from “Worldly” People?

By Mark D. Roberts

June 19, 2019

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Ephesians 5:6-7


Living as a faithful Christian in a less-than-faithful world is not easy. In our workplaces, neighborhoods, and social groups, we often find ourselves relating to people who do not share our values and practices. Sometimes we can be drawn into ways of living that do not reflect the truth and good news of God. In order to avoid this potential trap, some Christians withdraw from those they consider to be “worldly.” These followers of Jesus minimize their interaction with non-Christian folk, preferring instead to remain in the safe enclave of their Christian community.

two gray pencils on yellow backgroundEphesians 5:6-7 might at first seem to commend this kind of separateness from the world and its people. Verse 7 says that we are not to be “partners with them.” In context, “them” means “those who are disobedient” –literally in Greek the “children of disobedience” (5:6). The word translated here as “partners” (summetochos) appears twice in the New Testament, only in Ephesians. In Ephesians 3:6, it is used in the phrase “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). In secular Greek, summetochos can mean being a joint owner of something with another person. So Paul does not say we should never have relationship with those who are disobedient. We are not to cut ourselves off from them. Rather, we are to refrain from joining with them as partners in their wrong behavior.

With regard to the question of how we as God’s holy people are to live in an unholy world, Paul’s answer is clear: we are not to engage in immoral behavior. Yet at the same time we are not to withdraw completely from the world in order to make this easy. Rather, we are to remain engaged with those who are caught in darkness. God may very well use us to help them to be drawn to the light of Christ through us precisely because we are in relationship with them.

Something to Think About:

How has your Christian experience helped you to engage the world, or not, as the case may be?

When does righteous relationship with non-Christians cross the line into partnership?

In what ways can you be, as Jesus says, salt and light in your part of the world today?

Something to Do:

With a trusted friend or your small group, talk about how you can be “in the world but not of it.” How can you have genuine relationships with folks who are not Christian and still be a faithful follower of Jesus?


Gracious God, thank you for the extraordinary fact that we are salt and light. Thank you for calling us to represent you in the world, through our words and deeds, through our worship and our work (which can be a form of worship). Help us, Lord, to be deeply engaged in this world, yet not to become partners with those who promote deception and live disobediently. Give us wisdom to know how we can be with the people in the world who need to experience your grace through us, yet without joining with them inappropriately. May all that we do, Lord, glorify and honor you! Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Working with Nonbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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