A while back I got a cold – though humorous – slap in the face at being old.
Or at least older than today’s economically applied standard that says only the young have money and that youth alone is capable of understanding what’s vital in this world.
As a reporter and before I retired, I often provided stories that found their way onto our newspaper’s daily news podcast.
This Internet-only news broadcast provides near-real-time information available via home computers, electronic tablets and mobile devices for those readers on the go.
Selected reporters read the news, edited just prior to the daily podcast launch.
Yet I took note that every day one of the much-younger-than-me journalist was the selected news reader.
In half-jest I groused to one the editors how I was being overlooked in favor of one of my considerably younger colleagues.
To which the editor – also in half jest – replied “You’re not the right demographics.”
An age-discrimination lawsuit aside, the comment reflects not only this generation’s infatuation with all things young but also every generation’s similar take on growing old, of being old.
And yet this take, while a world view perhaps, is hardly scriptural.
Nowhere does the Bible say that growing old is a bad thing, whereby those who do age should be cast aside at the first sign of gray hairs untouched by Grecian Formula or Revlon ColorSilk.
If anything, scripture says much about the grace of becoming a senior along with the value that accumulated wisdom comes from an elder’s thoughts and experiences.
That being said, the Bible is equally clear as to the on-going duties required of those who do age, when means, most nearly all of us.
Let’s take a tour then of what the Bible says about growing old, its rights, its call for respect, and – just as importantly – the responsibilities that come with the aging process.
RIGHTS OF GROWING OLD
For the Christian the act of becoming old with its ultimate end in death is well known from our earliest days in Sunday school.
We can recount, and even often recite from memory, the fall of man found in the first three chapters of Genesis, ending with chapter five’s verse 5 where is says Adam lived 930 years “and he died.”
Between that biblical waypoint and into Revelation when death is finally subdued and believers throughout the ages will enjoy everlasting life with the Lord come an almost countless number of incidents regarding growing old.
Much of that Spirit-breathed history is kindly disposed to the aging process, too.
In Genesis chapter 48 we read how Jacob/Israel is overwhelmed at seeing not only his long-lost son Joseph but his grandchildren.
“Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.’” So says verse 11.
Clearly the Bible notes what just about any grandmother or grandfather will tell you: Being a grandparent is the greatest job and privilege in the world.
You don’t have to take my word for it, either. No less an authority than Solomon comments on this truism and found within Proverbs 17:6 where he writes: “Grandchildren’s are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers.”
Another aspect of the aging process oft thought about yet seldom discussed openly outside the covenant of marriage is the physical relationship an older couple both experiences and enjoys.
Nor does God discourages such intimacy, in spite of the belief by some that sexual activity is best left to younger couples for procreation only.
Perhaps that view is the result of popular culture where even advertisements for such pharmaceuticals as Viagra and Calais typically employ “younger/older” couples.
Having a fulfilling love life – if that is the appropriate term – is not the exclusive purview of newlyweds or couples with young children.
We see throughout the Scriptures of older couples engaged in physical intimacy as a God-given and blessed privilege.
Back in Genesis chapter 18 we learn of the Lord approaching Abraham and Sarah, promising them an heir whose descendants will become more numerous than the sand on the sea shore.
We then view two chapters later how Abraham becomes a father “in his old age;” and while it might be argued that procreation was the ultimate outcome it is no less difficult to accept the notion that Abraham and Sarah had continued to enjoy the physical comfort of each other.
As we will see later the same was true much later with the birth of Samuel to Hannah and her husband, Elkanah wherein I Samuel 1:19 notes the former “had relations” with his wife.
Again, it is doubtful either Elkanah or Hannah gave much thought at the time of doing so just in order to produce a son.
Another example: In Luke chapters 1 and 2 we read of the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom had gained Old Testament senior status. With a promise from God to Elizabeth to bear a boy who became John the Baptist, it is clear how the Lord blesses the aged couple.
Thus it is generally implied throughout Scripture how the Lord blesses older men and women in various naturally and wonderful ways those who remain close to Him.
Consequently, these elders are empowered with an understanding that transcends a solely worldly view. And that understanding remains not only a badge of honor for seniors but something that commands dutiful observation by their more youthful counterparts.
RESPECT FOR OUR ELDERS
Here we see Scripture has even more to say on the subject, an item that perhaps fittingly might belong in the RIGHTS column just as easily as becoming a stand-alone section.
Solomon not only addresses the joys of being old, surrounded by the delights of grandchildren, he also reminds their parents of the value of their parents.
“Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Solomon says in Proverbs 23:22.
That advice – as good, as solid and as Biblical as any given – was itself ignored by no less than Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam.
Following Solomon’s death a struggle came about between his son, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.
This narrative is found in the book of Second Chronicles with special emphasis on Chapter 10.
Jeroboam had fled to Egypt after what we’ll call “a falling out” (“rebellion” as noted in I Kings 11:26-40) with King Solomon.
When Jeroboam learned of Solomon’s death and the ascension of Rehoboam to the throne, the former asked the latter to ease the yoke of oppression handed down by Solomon.
Rehoboam requested some time to mull over the request.
He first asked the king’s court of elders what should be done. Their collective reply was to ease the toil imposed by Solomon. In exchange Jeroboam and all of his company would serve the new king, the elders confided.
However, this sound advice was soundly rejected.
Instead of heeding the wise counsel of the court’s elder statesmen, Rehoboam embraced the antagonistic recommendation put forth by his ne’re-do-well youthful cronies.
This batch of hot-headed, rational-deprived youths advised Rehoboam to increase the burden so that “whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” (Second Chronicles 10:11 and I Kings 12:11).
What followed was the dividing of the kingdom established by King David but torn asunder just two generations later by his own grandchild, Rehoboam.
“So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day,” says the writer of Second Chronicles 10:19.
Yet look around and we still see this dependence on running after youthful advice.
Our modern forms of entertainment are resplendent with examples of where seniors are presented not only with the world view of being bumbling old fogies but even dangerous backward thinkers.
Makes one wonder how the nation survived the Great Depression, fought a world war and forged an economic powerhouse.
Be that as it may, the Bible has a long thread of verses noting the value of senior-inspired advice.
In Job 12:12 Job reminds his four adversarial friends that “Wisdom is with old men, With long life is understanding.”
Not that youth always listens, of course.
Just like Rehoboam, Elihu – the youngest of Job’s four critics (Job 32:9) - proclaims how “The abundant in years may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice.”
Elihu then goes on for four more chapters before God finally speaks in Chapter 38 and concludes in Chapter 42 by blessing Job “two-fold,” even with the birth of seven more sons and two more daughters in spite of Job’s obvious old age.
Not that I’m suggesting those of us holding Golden Buckeye cards pray for any additional children, of course. Once around that carousel is enough, thank you.
And though age is not exactly stated in Proverbs 31:10-28, King Lemuel addresses how good it is for a man to find and hold close to his heart “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.”
A reading of this portion of scripture clearly denotes how the marriage process grows through the years and is established by the kindly report of not only the woman’s husband, her neighbors and associates but her children as well.
Obviously finding, keeping and relying on a good spouse takes time in order to age properly.
Note as well the Lord – speaking through Moses in Leviticus 19:32 - admonishes the young of the exiled Israel nation how “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” a fitting reminder that cherishing one’s elders goes hand-in-glove with worshiping one’s God.
The theme of respecting the elderly (as well as those men and women embarking on that journey) is certainly carried forward into the New Testament.
In Peter’s first epistle the Apostle writes to the addressee: “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…” and as recorded in First Peter 5:5a.
This is a point reinforced by the Apostle Paul when he writes in First Timothy 5:1 and 2: “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men, as brothers,” and “the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
Of course, we have the Lord’s own admonition found in Exodus 20:12 as the sixth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother,” with the subsequent blessing “that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
On this point even Christ bowed.
Take note of Luke 2:51 where following Jesus’ visit at age 12 to Jerusalem with his mother and step-father how He “continued in subjection to them.” This subjection came after Christ had reminded them of His duty in the temple.
Christ also would later be seen in Matthew 15:1-9 rebuking the Pharisees for their supposed dedication of their wealth to God when they should have considered the welfare of their aged and likely, infirmed, parents.
So, yes, the aged, the elderly, the senior citizen, the whatever-you-want-to-call-them, are entitled to rank, privilege and respect.
Yet it must be instructed that when Samuel anointed David as Israel’s king it would still take decades of experience, of collecting wisdom, patience and knowledge before David actually sat on the throne.
Similarly, Paul had to gain further teaching before becoming the great evangelist to the Gentiles. (Galatians 1:14-18).
Thus the road to rights and respect must also be paved with a duty that extends into the so-called Golden Years.
RESPONSIBILTIES OF BEING AN ELDER
Simply because one has achieved enough longevity to use the senior menu at Cracker Barrel doesn’t mean a person also retires from the Lord’s service.
Just the opposite is demonstrated with more than a few biblical and real-time instances.
We learn in Exodus 7:7, for instance, that Moses was 80 years old and his brother Aaron was 83 when they first approached Pharaoh to plead their case for the nation of Israel leave Egypt.
Think of it: The two men were octogenarians, and if Moses were alive today in the United States he would have been legally compelled to dip into his 401(k) account nine years earlier.
Even so, rounding the bend on 80 and serving the Lord is not something unique only to biblical antiquity.
It is happening today with any number of examples.
I’ll provide a couple of illustrations.
First up is Pastor Wilson Wahl, whom many Bible Community Church attendees recall as the minister who stepped into the preaching breach left vacant for a spell. This, following the departure of our former pastor Steve Spence and before the arrival of our current shepherd Josh Scheiderer.
When asked to contribute to this piece, Pastor Wahl kindly responded with an appropriate minister-length commentary.
In it, Pastor Wahl notes: “In the recent past I remembered having had lunch with six other pastors at which time I had asked them what they would like to do after their retirement.
“Each one responded he wanted to continue preaching. It seems that once God calls a man to serve that burden remains. Besides, there aren’t many comfortable rocking chairs.”
Pastor Wahl continued in his service by accepting the Lord’s call to minister to churches as an interim pastor, helping the congregation locate a full-time replacement and at the same time shepherding the church for the short term.
“Even now, that joy continues, for just this week I assisted a church via phone calls and Emails in locating and calling their new pastor,” Pastor Wahl said in his email.
My 85-year-old father-in-law, Bud Shope similarly notes how growing old does not erase the debt owed to Christ for our salvation.
Citing Philippians 3:14 where an aged Paul writes “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” my father-in-law states “We never retire, our serving the Lord just takes on a different form.”
To that end my father-in-law has kept himself occupied. He’s done a tour of duty as a deacon in his Florida-based Baptist church, worked on vacation bible school projects, and engaged in visitation.
My father-in-law’s most precious on-going servitude, though, is his involvement as a cook for with his church’s weekly “Men in Motion” program, a noon-time feature that includes an inexpensive hot lunch and a “sermonette” by a visiting preacher.
“I didn’t know how to cook for 60 or 70 men before, but the Lord has me doing it,” my father-in-law said.
Lest one thinks such service is the exclusive domain of men, listen to Pastor Wahl’s wife, Jackie.
“There are many layers in one’s retirement and as each one is pealed back, new adventures emerge with their own joys, which always over-shadow the difficulties,” Jackie Wahl writes.
In the same email Jackie notes: “Successful retirement evolves from a successful partnership of years, being aware of each other’s needs and the molding of the desires of each into one goal. We started our life together with my husband’s first pastorate in an area totally foreign to our individual former growing-up years. The adventure of enjoying new people in new places with new challenges never left us.”
Nor should it, says the Bible.
We read in Titus 2:1-6 how Paul instructs both older men and older women on how best to instruct younger Christians, establishing that scriptural teaching has no retirement plan.
Likewise, oldsters are prodded to be “temperate, dignified, sensible,” (for men), and “reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips” (for women).
Whether “dignified” includes ensuring that the man doesn’t leave the house wearing knee-length shorts, black socks and open-toed sandals is an item best left for one’s long-suffering wife to decide, however.
Of course, being responsible is not something one undertakes about the same time one thinks of buying a Buick instead of a sports car.
In all ways both the Old and New testaments demonstrate how with age a believer embraces sober thinking accompanied with rational, practical action.
As Christian parents we all know the verses on applying the proper punishment to our kids, not exploiting our children’s vulnerabilities, and the like
Verses such as Proverbs 22:6 ring as clear and true today as they did back in King Solomon’s day.
And just as we need to heed the Lord’s instruction found in Proverbs 13:22a which says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” we must therefore reject that it’s all about us when we mature.
Gone then should be the popular RV bumper sticker declaration that opines “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.”
Truth is, seniors do have a biblically inspired legacy to leave behind.
Failure to abide by the Lord’s commands about living an honorable, biblical life as one matures is recorded in the grief borne by those who fail to follow the Lord’s teachings.
We see in the First Book of Samuel how the-then priest/prophet Eli had two sons whom God said “were worthless men; they did not know the Lord.” (2:12).
Later in the chapter Eli had to sternly rebuke his sons and later, how the Lord even more severely rebuked Eli.
This was not the first nor was it the last similar scriptural instance whereby a parent failed in his or her responsibilities and which bore bitter fruit later on.
We’ve already spoken about Israel’s civil war that was the direct offshoot created by the backslidden Solomon.
Long before Rehoboam there was the equally defiant Cain who killed his younger sibling Abel, a situation that especially grieved their mother Eve (Genesis 4:25).
David, too, saw what being a poor parent can do, a situation that spawned considerable anguish in his later years when he should have enjoyed bouncing grandchildren on his knees.
Obviously our sin nature is always in rebellion to godly authority regardless of how often we’ve celebrated our birthdays.
Of course we all desire how our final days would mirror those of Moses, who, as we read in Deuteronomy 34:7: “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dimmed, nor his vigor abated.”
Just the same when we enter our senior years we can still rejoice for as the Lord says in Isaiah 46:4:
“Even to your old age I will be the same,
“And even to your graying years I will bear you!
“I have done it, and I will carry you;
“And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”
(All scriptural verses cited employ the New American Standard edition text.)
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn