Old Age and the Bible
The Blessings and Responsibilities of Old Age
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people age 60 and over has doubled since 1980. By the time we reach 2050 the number of people age 80 is expected to quadruple to 395 million. Within the next 5 years, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children age 5 and under. And by 2050 these older adults will outnumber all children under the age of 14.
And yet our culture tends to favor youth. Indeed, we almost worship it. People will do almost anything to try to look younger. They nip here, and tuck there. They color their hair, and add hair plugs to get back hair. Many will do anything to have the appearance of youth.
Part of this might be vanity. But much of it is that our culture sees older people more as a burden. It doesn't really respect them. Many Eastern cultures revere those who are older. They respect them for the contributions that they've made, and for the wisdom that they've accumulated. But that isn't the case in the West.
The Bible has a lot to say about how we are to treat those who have lived many years. And our culture would do well to heed what it has to say.
I. Old Age is a Blessing from God
Far from seeing old age as a bad thing, the Bible sees it as a blessing from God. We see that growing older can be a reward for living a righteous life. In Proverbs 16:31 it says:
"A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of the righteous.."
While living a righteous life is no guarantee by God, we can see how following God's principles can be good for body, mind and spirit. For example, those who see their bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, will treat it well, thus having a better chance of a longer life.
It is interesting that long life is also seen as a reward for honoring your parents in both the Old Testament and in the New. God told the people of Israel in Exodus 20:12 to:
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you."
Deuteronomy 6:2 also repeats this command but rather than their days being prolonged in the land, it simply says to honor them: "that your days may be prolonged."
And Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:2 that we are to honor our father and mother, "which is the first commandment with a promise."
In the Old Testament, we also see many people that, in their death, were said to have died at a ripe old age. It was said of David, for instance:
"David, son of Jesse...died at a good old age, full of days, riches and honor" (I Chronicles 29:26,28).
II. Long Life and Wisdom Are Connected
It is interesting how wisdom and old age are connected in Scripture. While there are examples in life of older people who remain foolish, those who fear the Lord and follow His precepts develop wisdom, which can lead to a longer life. The book of Proverbs says:
“Happy is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding… She is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor” (Proverbs 3:13, 15-16).
It also tells us a little later:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life” (Proverbs 9:10-11).
III. Wisdom Should Be Passed On to the Youth
One of our major duties, as we get older, is to pass the wisdom that we've learned on to the next generation. In the book of Deuteronomy, the youth are told to ask their father's and elders about the old days and what the Lord did for Israel (Deuteronomy 32:7-9).
Paul also talks about how older men and women are to behave, and to teach the youth to behave this way as well:
"Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. Likewise, urge the young men to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (Titus 2:2-8).
IV. We Must Respect and Care For the Aged
The Scripture clearly tells us that we are to respect and care for those who are growing older. In the book of Leviticus the people of God are told to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor them (19:32). And in Proverbs we are told to listen to our fathers who gave us life, and not to despise our mother when she is old (23:22).
Paul tells Timothy that we aren't to sharply rebuke an older man, but we are to treat him as a father. And we are to treat older women as mothers (I Timothy 5:1,2). He goes on to say that the church has a responsibility to care for widows, unless she has children or grandchildren. Then they must do it (3,4).
It is just a few verses later that Paul tells Timothy:
"But if anyone does not care for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (8).
It is quite obvious that God holds the aged in high regard, so we should as well.
We all need to come back to a biblical understanding of aging. A long life is a blessing from God, and with it comes a responsibility to the next generation. And the next generation, in turn is to respect their elders. Further, we have a responsibility to care for those older persons who are no longer able to care for themselves.
God has blessed us in our society by allowing us to have those who have been around long enough to gain the wisdom that only comes with old age. It is my hope that we, as members of the Body of Christ, will set the example in this world by treating the older people in our lives with the respect and dignity that they truly deserve.