True Christians Honor Older Ones!
“THE aged,” says researcher Suzanne Steinmetz, “are at the end of their economically productive life, which is the basis on which our culture values individuals and provides them with deference, status, respect and rewards.” Modern society’s view of the elderly is thus a gloomy, negative one. Little wonder, then, that we often read of their being neglected and abused.
However, what view of the elderly does the Bible take? God’s Word realistically acknowledges that growing old is not easy. Prayed the psalmist: “Do not throw me away in the time of old age; just when my power is failing, do not leave me.” (Psalm 71:9) In his old age, he felt more need than ever of Jehovah’s support. And the Bible’s view is positive in showing that we, too, should give attention to the needs of the aged.
True, Solomon called old age “the calamitous days” in which one would “have no delight.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-3) But “length of days and years of life” are also associated in the Bible with blessings from God. (Proverbs 3:1, 2) To illustrate, Jehovah promised Abraham: “As for you, . . . you will be buried at a good old age.” (Genesis 15:15) Surely, God was not sentencing faithful Abraham to dismal, “calamitous days” in which he could “have no delight.” Abraham found peace and serenity in his latter years, looking back with satisfaction on a life spent in service to Jehovah. He could also look forward to a “city having real foundations,” God’s Kingdom. (Hebrews 11:10) Thus he could die “old and satisfied.”—Genesis 25:8.
Why, then, did Solomon call old age “the calamitous days”? Solomon referred to the unrelenting deterioration of health that occurs in old age. However, one who has failed to ‘remember his Grand Creator in the days of his young manhood’ finds his declining years particularly calamitous. (Ecclesiastes 12:1) Because he has wasted his life, such an old person ‘has no delight’ in his latter days of life. His godless life-style may even have resulted in physical problems that aggravate the discomforts of old age. (Compare Proverbs 5:3-11.) So when looking ahead, he sees no future but the grave. A person who has devoted his life to serving God also experiences “calamitous days” as his body weakens. But like Abraham, he can find joy and satisfaction in a life well spent and in using his remaining strength in God’s service. “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 16:31.
In fact, old age even has certain advantages. “Youth and the prime of life are vanity,” says Solomon. While young people may enjoy vibrant health, they often lack experience and judgment. Old age, though, brings with it a lifetime of experience. The elderly one ‘wards off calamity,’ unlike the impulsive youth who often rushes headlong into it. (Ecclesiastes 11:10; 2 Timothy 2:22) Consequently, Solomon could say: “The splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.”—Proverbs 20:29.
The Bible therefore honors the elderly. How does this affect the way in which Christians deal with them?
‘Rising’ Before Elderly Ones
God made respect for the aged a national policy in Israel. The Mosaic Law stated: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man.” (Leviticus 19:32) Jews in later years evidently took this law quite literally. Says Dr. Samuel Burder in his book Oriental Customs: “The Jewish writers say that the rule was, to rise up to them when they were at the distance of four cubits; and as soon as they were gone by, to sit down again, that it might appear they rose purely out of respect to them.” Such respect was not limited to men of prominence. “Respect even the old man who has lost his learning,” declared the Talmud. One rabbi argued that this respect should also include an ignorant and unlettered old man. “The very fact that he has grown old,” he reasoned, “must be due to some merit.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia.
Christians today are no longer subject to the sanctions of the Mosaic Law. (Romans 7:6) But this does not mean that they are no longer obliged to show special regard for the elderly. This is evident from the instructions the apostle Paul gave the Christian overseer Timothy: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, . . . older women as mothers.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Paul told young Timothy that he had authority to “command.” (1 Timothy 1:3) Nevertheless, if someone older than he—especially one serving as an overseer—erred in judgment or made an incorrect statement, Timothy was not to “severely criticize” him as an inferior. Rather, he was respectfully to “entreat him as a father.” Timothy was to show similar respect to older women in the congregation. Yes, he was still, in effect, to ‘rise before gray hair.’
Christianity is thus a religion that respects the elderly. Ironically, though, much of the mistreatment of older ones takes place in nations professing to be Christian. There are, however, worshipers that still adhere to Bible standards. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, enjoy the presence of many thousands of elderly ones in their midst; they do not view them as a burden or a liability. While fragile health may prevent such older ones from being as active as they once were, many have long records of faithful Christian service, and this encourages younger Witnesses to imitate their faith.—Compare Hebrews 13:7.
The elderly, however, are not expected to take a passive role in the congregation. They are urged to set fine examples in being “moderate in habits, serious, sound in mind, healthy in faith, . . . reverent in behavior,” freely sharing their wisdom and experience with others. (Titus 2:2, 3) Joel prophesied that among those sharing in the proclaiming of the Bible message, would be “old men.” (Joel 2:28) No doubt you have personally observed that many elderly Witnesses still delight to share actively in the door-to-door preaching activity.
Showing Them Honor “in Fuller Measure”
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to give older ones special consideration in many ways. At yearly religious conventions, for example, they often arrange for seats to be set aside for older ones. Consideration is also shown them on an individual basis. In Japan one Witness gives up his seat in the family car so that an 87-year-old woman can have a ride to congregation meetings. How does he get to the meetings himself? By bicycle. In Brazil there is a full-time evangelizer 92 years of age. Observers report that Witnesses there “treat him with respect, talk with him . . . He is a useful part of the congregation.”
This does not mean that there is no room for improvement in honoring older ones. Paul wrote to Christians in Thessalonica: “However, with reference to brotherly love, . . . you are doing it to all the brothers in all of Macedonia. But we exhort you, brothers, to go on doing it in fuller measure.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10) Similar counsel is at times needed today when it comes to our treatment of older ones. One 85-year-old Christian, for example, was very disappointed when he did not receive a copy of a new Bible-based publication. The problem? He is nearly deaf and did not hear an announcement reminding everyone to order the book; nor did anyone in the congregation think of ordering it for him. The situation, of course, was quickly rectified. It nevertheless illustrates that there is a need to be especially conscious of the needs of older ones.
There are any number of ways in which God’s people today can do this “in fuller measure.” Christian meetings afford an opportunity to “incite” older ones “to love and fine works.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) And while young and old already mix freely at Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps even more effort can be made along those lines. For example, some parents encourage their children respectfully to approach and talk with senior members of the congregation.
Honor can also continue to be shown the elderly on an informal basis. In harmony with the principle Jesus set forth at Luke 14:12-14, more effort can be made to invite older ones to social gatherings. Even if they are unable to attend, they will certainly appreciate your remembering them. Christians are further exhorted to “follow the course of hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) This need not call for something fancy or elaborate. Suggests one Witness from Germany: “Invite older ones over for a cup of tea, and let them tell their experiences from the past.”
The apostle Paul said: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, appointed congregation elders especially take the lead in showing honor to elderly Christians. Often the elders are able to assign older ones appropriate tasks to perform, such as training new ones as evangelists or assisting with maintenance at Christian meeting places. Younger men serving as congregation elders show older overseers honor by humbly approaching them for advice, using discernment in getting their mature viewpoints. (Proverbs 20:5) At meetings of such elders, they follow the Biblical example of young Elihu and respectfully defer to older, more experienced men, giving them full opportunity to express themselves first.—Job 32:4.
Admittedly, it is easy to become impatient with elderly ones because they may not be able to move or think as fast as younger ones do. Dr. Robert N. Butler well describes some of the problems old age can bring: “One loses one’s physical stamina, one’s ability to keep up, and that in itself can be extremely frightening. One may lose important sensory elements such as hearing or vision.” Appreciating this, should not younger ones show fellow feeling and be compassionate?—1 Peter 3:8.
Yes, Christians today are obliged to show true love, concern, and respect for the older ones in their midst. And among Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is being done in an exemplary way. What happens, though, when elderly Christians—or the parents of Christians—become ill or impoverished? Whose responsibility is it to render them care? The following articles will explore how the Bible answers these questions.
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In congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, older ones find much satisfying work to do