CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On the Value of Being Older

May 3, 2015

OK, a public disclosure is required here before moving on: I am an old guy. So of course I will defend being old, you might think. And perhaps you are right. But there is more to this than just my own increase in years. The Bible speaks much about the value of those who are older.

The simple truth is, with age comes experience, wisdom, maturity, and so on. Or at least that is how it is supposed to go. The young simply lack so much of this. Scripture has much to say about the elderly and their role. Just a few verses can be offered here:

Leviticus 19:32 Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.
Job 12:12 With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
Proverbs 23:22 Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.
1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

stott 3All this is important for at least two reasons. One, we live in a youth-obsessed culture. In the West everything is geared for the young. It is almost as if older people do not exist. So much of our entertainment, our marketing, our politics, our economy and so on is all geared to the younger generation.

While we might expect the world to carry on like this, the really worrying thing is that so much of the western church has slavishly followed suit. It too tends to cater almost exclusively for the young. So much of the music, the worship, even the sermons – if sermons are still to be found – are geared to youth.

One indication of how the Bible values those older in the faith can be found in its emphasis on and description of elders. The term entails just what it says: the elderly – those who are older. They are valuable for church leadership because of the wisdom and maturity gained through their length of days.

1 Timothy 5:22 indicates this as well when it says that we are to “lay hands suddenly on no man”. The idea is that in the laying on of hands (the public acknowledgement and commissioning of a person for the Lord’s work) care and due diligence should be used.

The hasty appointment of someone to church leadership can be the source of all sorts of trouble. All this is not to say that young people have no role to play in the work of the Kingdom of course, but one of the aspects of biblical leadership is growth in wisdom, maturity, experience and understanding.

But my second reason for raising this is because of my daily reading. In 2 Chronicles 10 we read about how the Kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was an unwise king resulting in Israel to the north rebelling against him and forming their own Kingdom with Samaria its capital and Jeroboam its first king.

Jeroboam had asked the newly appointed king Rehoboam to lighten the heavy load put on them by their father. In verses 5-14 we see how this plays out:

Rehoboam answered, “Come back to me in three days.” So the people went away. Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If you will be kind to these people and please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?” The young men who had grown up with him replied, “The people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” The king answered them harshly. Rejecting the advice of the elders, he followed the advice of the young men.

The result of all this is found in v. 19: “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.” Wow, what a lesson is found here. Of course this is not to say that advice and counsel from the elderly is always right and that of younger people always wrong.

But it does show the folly of relying on only the younger crowd, while rejecting the wisdom and learning of those who are older. Yet as I say, pretty much all of the West operates in this fashion, as does far too much of the church. And the warnings of 1 Tim. 5:22 can be applied in related areas as well.

How often do we find brand new converts being thrust into the limelight in many Christian circles? Because they may be a bit famous, or have a bit of an amazing testimony, these people are sometimes rushed into the public glare, if not into leadership positions.

But too often they are far from ready, and certainly are in need of some solid growth, learning, maturing, and so on. How many of these new believers are simply unprepared and not ready for all the attention and responsibilities thrust upon them?

How many end up burning out or getting into moral or theological error because they were far too young and unable to cope with all the new found public notice and pressure? I often think about one poor gal I heard back in America long ago. I was at Calvary Chapel in California, and they got a new Christian convert to give her testimony.

Her main claim to fame seems to have been the fact that she was a Playboy bunny. There was nothing memorable about her testimony, and it was neat that she got saved, but I have often wondered how she fared. She was thrust into the spotlight and people were happy to hear about this pretty young gal, but where is she today? Is she still following Jesus?

Anyway, back to my main point: the lessons of 2 Chronicles need to be heeded. Too much of the church is focused too much on all things youth-related. It is of course vital that we deal with young people, but not at the expense of others, and not if we push them too far and too fast when they are not fully up to Christian leadership.

In recent years much has been written about youth ministry, its value, and whether we should pull the plug on it altogether. It is not my place to enter into that discussion here, but the whole issue is well worth thinking about. Several recent articles on this are worth looking at:

www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-your-youth-ministry-mess-with-christs-bride
www.faithit.com/3-common-traits-of-youth-who-dont-leave-the-church/

But the lessons of 1 Tim. 5:22, 2 Chronicles 10 and other passages must not be lost on us. Instead of slavishly following the world in all that it does, the church needs to provide a genuine counter culture, leading the way. And that includes how we deal with both young and old.

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6 Responses to On the Value of Being Older

  • Example of lack of elder respect in the community. On Friday I took a train trip home from Brisbane city. The train was packed-last one out before all services were cancelled due to the weather. I’m 60+ with white hair and a limp (nothing serious but painful standing up for long periods) Despite there being “priority” seating for the disabled and elderly, it was some thirty minutes before I got to sit down- and that was because the train had emptied enough for a seat or two to become vacant. Not one person offered me their seat. Is an example of the respect for the elders of our community.

  • I think respect for the elderly, and it’s Biblical commendation is interesting.

    In merit, being old doesn’t count for anything.
    Are old people wise because they are old?
    Not at all. It’s because of humility and contemplation that wisdom comes.
    Getting older simply offers you more chances to be humble and to contemplate life. Therefore, if you are old, humble and contemplative, you’ll have wisdom, whether it is wordly or Godly.

    But the Bible also says we can get Wisdom, and puts no caveats on “you must be old to enter this blessing”.
    God IS wisdom. And He is gettable 😛

    I’ve dealt with enough men and women who are middle aged or even old, who are genuine fools, to see that age doesn’t make the man.

    Also, I think part of the commandment of the Bible to respect elders isn’t because they merit it (otherwise you’d see a lot of old people being amazing at life, more so than young people, which isn’t true) but because its good for the person respecting the old person.
    “You are impatient, and respect those who are good at something/better than you?
    Well that’s easy, even sinners do that.
    How about you respect someone who’s slow at doing things?”
    That grows the character of the person who has to do the respecting.

    +++

    And now onto some of the benefits of the old for society.
    Stable. It’s easy to get pushed around into new fads, technologies, etc. That’s not always a good thing. In our excitement for the “new” we can open ourselves up to all sorts of nasties we’d not predicted. Old people naturally resist change, as all humans like what they’re familiar with.

    Less emotional, usually. God gives us emotions, and for good reason. But with time, some of the “heat” and impetuousness of youth slows down, and so more thought is given to things.
    Energy, combined with thought and experience, is a wonderful thing.

    I have done my apprenticeship as a Fitter & Turner. I can tell you truly that all age brackets, and genders, has their share of stupid. But all has their strengths too.

    It is appropriate that both my bosses are old and experienced. They have wisdom and incite into their fields that even they didn’t have 10 – 20 years ago. I can follow them.

    I think it is far more “natural” (that is, for the sin nature) to be swept away with the glamour of youth and it’s strengths than to honour the old. But besides an atrophying body (to break our pride and to show us this life isn’t our everything) God has blessings in getting old (both for the person experiencing it & for those who would respect the elderly) that are easy to miss if we aren’t mindful of respecting the elderly.

    Michael Jordan became the best modern basket baller because Boston, then Detroit, knocked him down. He had to grow in character, lose “me-first, I am the team” thinking, and increase in strength mentally and physically. This only happened because of his choices and because of the passing of time, not because he “got older” per se.

    All, young, old, male, female, Western, Eastern, etc. have something to offer the world and the Bride of Christ.

  • This is yet another legacy of the Left and its rejection of timely western values and traditions. The motto used to be; “never trust anyone over 30”!

  • Thanks for bringing this up Bill! I have experienced this in the church organizations I’ve been a part of. The “Youth is the future” mentality has become the mantra of the contemporary church and drives the exclusion of the value elders can bring to the church.

    The Bible says respect your elders and that should be enough. The concept is that respect for elders adds “value”, not because it is going to make you feel better. Wisdom comes with age, is the premise. Sure, you can say some old people aren’t wise, but, the wise man can learn more from them than they can learn from him. Disrespect for elders comes from believing your wisdom is greater than theirs. This position comes from pride. The Bible doesn’t say seek out wise elders and respect them.

    In the contemporary churches I’ve been involved in, The board is made up of “40 somethings” businessmen whose job is to build the church business. They are only selected for their experience in business. Most of the churches’ business models are based around attracting the youth, much like the music industry and just about every other consumer industry. The majority of church resources are spent trying to attract the youth while the elder people are discarded for their lack of aggressive church building mentality. Witnessing has been replaced with attracting. And, attracting the youth has become everything.

  • I heard once that the energy of the young and the wisdom of the old should work together for the good of the whole, the family, the church, the business, etc. I get very concerned when you have all these separate ministries, women, men, youth, seniors, play groups etc. The beauty of a church, the body of Christ at work is where the elderly are respected, and consulted, the young are taught and nurtured and each benefits from what the others have to give. When people chalenge me about my age I often tell them that the only alternative to getting old is dying young and ask them if that is what they prefer.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • I am tired of the youth-dominated culture in our church. In my teens, our church would have an occasional youth service. They were great. Then they started having a once monthly youth service and I thought that was too much as I was missing out on hearing the preaching of older men of God. But I guess once monthly really is okay.

    Now there are 2 youth services every Sunday. I wonder what will happen in a few years time when the current self-centred youth are a few years older and those even younger try to push them aside. Will they take it with grace? Or tell the even-younger to be respectful of them contrary to how they are not respectful to the older generation now.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an occasional “oldies” service. I won’t hold my breath though.

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