Even though America is known as a nation built on a foundation of Judeo-Christian principles, sometimes we struggle with certain aspects of that foundation. One of those areas is having a respect for our elders. Our culture has become so overly pragmatic that we have found it easier to justify ourselves in placing older people in the “less useful” category. After all, they have more medical struggles, they move slower, they can’t see as well, etc, etc. However, they often have something that younger people do not have, something the Bible categorizes as priceless – wisdom.
The Bible gives us some guidelines for honoring our elders and also endorses their high value.
“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” I Timothy 5:1-2
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God 0pposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I Peter 5:5
If you struggle with this concept the Scriptures provides some possible reasons.
Pride – Notice in I Peter 5, that the command by Paul is connected to the issue of pride. When we are young we feel strong and invincible. At the same time, we have less life experience and wisdom. Pride creates blindness. In contrast, the older we become, the longer we have lived and we have experienced more of our own mistakes. That humbles us. You might say that the longer we live the more our self-vision is clarified and our frailties exposed. We see who we really are and who we really are not.
Authority/Submission Issues – Sometimes people who disrespect elders also disrespect other forms of authority. This is merely just one of their many manifestations of lacking respect for authority. In World War II, the line among soldiers was “loose lips sinks ships.” Well, along the same lines, wandering, independent sheep can be a great distraction to the mission of the shepherd and maturity of the sheep. It can eventually sink a church if left unaddressed.
I have never been a big fan of age-graded church groups for this very reason. If you grew up in a Baptist Church, you know what I am referring to. Everything was divided up by age. The Bible says the older should teach the younger. “Doing life together” should involve the same diversity in our groups as in life. I think one reason people in America resist this is our homes no longer have multi-generational families. Cultures that still have such a household usually do respect age in a much greater way. (Remember “The Waltons” TV show?)
I have to take this opportunity to state that I think the vast majority of disrespect toward elders is not intentional, it just flows out of the disrespectful, self-centered culture we were reared in. I honestly believe that most of the people who practice such behavior would be shocked if they could observe their words and actions afterwards. They developed this bad habit from their own upbringing, their generation/peers, or other cultural influences.
The good thing about this issue for the younger is that their elders usually don’t take it too seriously and are not too offended. After all, they’ve already been in your shoes and have their own memories of youthful mistakes. They still want to help you. Young people, you’re the one who has the most to lose here. An untapped well of wisdom and support awaits you!
To the elders I would say be willing to invest in the next generation. Be positive, stay humble, and hopeful in your message. You will find renewed purpose for your life as your pour yourself into others.
“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” Prov 16:31