The Splendor of Gray-Headedness
HOW thrilling it would be to speak with faithful men and women of old! Just think of talking to men such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and John the Baptizer, as well as to women like Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, and Deborah! Would you not be enthralled to hear them relate eyewitness accounts of outstanding events of times long past?
Even today, would you not enjoy hearing faithful older ones share experiences about how they and others kept their integrity to God under trials, including bans, beatings, and imprisonment for righteousness’ sake? Most assuredly! Our love for God and our esteem for them would grow as they told us about their feelings and especially their heartfelt appreciation for Jehovah’s loving care.
Among God’s people, faithful elderly men and women have always been respected for their experience, knowledge, and wisdom. In fact, the following injunction was included in the Law given by God to the Israelites: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” (Leviticus 19:32) The Hebrew word for age or old age comes from a root meaning “grow gray” and is also rendered “gray-headedness.” So the Israelites were expected to rise up as a sign of respect for an older person, doing so in reverential fear of God.
Does that respectful attitude exist today? For instance, do young people graciously open doors for the elderly? Do youths or young adults usually give their place on a loaded elevator to an older person? Or do younger individuals generally relinquish their seat to the elderly on a crowded bus or train? Failure to do such things has even been noted among Christians.
To please Jehovah God, however, Christians must act in harmony with his viewpoint and avoid the thinking, speech, and actions of those who are ‘lovers of themselves, disobedient to parents, unthankful, and without love of goodness.’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5) What, then, does God’s Word say about youthfulness in relation to gray-headedness?
The Power of Youth
The Bible recognizes youthful strength and its advantages, stating: “The beauty of young men is their power.” (Proverbs 20:29) In ancient Israel the power of young Levites was employed at the temple, often for many of the heavier tasks. Today, much of the work in factories, in Bethel homes, and on construction projects of the Watch Tower Society is done by young men and women who have offered their strength and abilities to advance Kingdom interests. (Matthew 6:33) They thus enjoy fine privileges in God’s service.
The proverb just quoted concludes with the words, “and the splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.” When youthful strength is combined with the experience and wisdom of years, a very strong combination is formed.
To illustrate: A young apprentice carpenter who has been asked to install some paneling seeks to fulfill the assignment with youthful vigor. An older, more experienced carpenter notices that in spite of his strength, the young helper strikes a nail several times before it is driven in. The older workman recommends that the young man hold the hammer at the end of the handle, rather than close to its metal head. This enables the young person to strike the nails with greater force, saving time and energy.
Similarly, a young, energetic woman may learn from trial and error that some fabrics will be ruined if they are not washed according to instructions. An experienced woman, though, knows the value of taking time to sort the clothes and wash some garments separately. She has also learned that she can avoid doing some ironing by folding clothes as she takes them off the line or out of the dryer.
Learning from experienced people can make life easier. Nevertheless, there comes a time when even the more experienced person cannot handle some jobs that he or she easily accomplished a few years earlier. One writer aptly observed: “If youth but knew, and old age only could.” But how good it is when older people appreciate the strength of younger ones and patiently share with them experience acquired over the years—and youths humbly accept suggestions! In this way, both age groups are benefited.
Mere age is not enough. “It is not those merely abundant in days that prove wise, nor those just old that understand judgment,” said the young man Elihu. (Job 32:9; Ecclesiastes 4:13) To be truly valued because of gray-headedness, an older person would have to have done more with his life than lazily spending his days watching television, attending sports events, or otherwise just having a good time. And even in later years, the elderly need to continue learning.
Some people brag about doing things their way, or they say: “Experience is the best teacher.” Yet, God’s Word counsels: “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction.” (Proverbs 1:5; compare 1 Corinthians 10:11.) Experience is not always the best teacher, for we can learn from the mistakes of others without having to make the same errors ourselves. Moreover, a Christian would want to keep in mind that “gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31) A life spent in faithful service to Jehovah is beautiful from his standpoint and merits the respect of others as a good example. Of course, learning about God and acquiring experience “in the way of righteousness” can start early in life and should be a never-ending process.—Romans 11:33, 34.
This can be illustrated by an experience involving a seven-year-old boy in Sweden. He asked the Theocratic Ministry School overseer in the congregation if he might join the school. The overseer asked, “Why?” At that, the youngster responded: “One cannot idle one’s whole life away!” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) What a positive example for young and old alike!
A disturbing tendency in modern society is to put great value on physical fitness and athletic ability and to look down on the elderly. What should be the Christian’s attitude toward the gray-headed ones in the congregation?
Rather than overlooking elderly Christians, we should take them into consideration and spend time with them. For instance, at the weekly meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Kingdom Hall, do you make a point of greeting the older ones? They truly appreciate the greetings of the little ones and others. And how the elderly enjoy being present at social gatherings of fellow believers of different age groups! Though a younger married couple may have more in common with other married people of their age group, it would be rewarding to include older ones at such happy gatherings.—1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:15.
How important it is to be considerate when talking to the elderly! When an older brother with 40 years of service to Jehovah once spoke to another elder about how he could be used in the congregation, the younger man said: “You have very little to offer.” What an unkind remark! The older brother had less energy than he once had, his share in the field ministry had diminished somewhat, and some privileges of oversight apparently were beyond his present abilities; yet, he had much to offer. He had years of accumulated wisdom and experience in the way of righteousness. Because such elderly ones worked hard as Kingdom preachers, endured persecution, carried heavy loads of Christian responsibility, and trained others, God’s people now enjoy a strong organization backed up by his spirit. May we, therefore, show these older ones respect as wise counselors, loving shepherds, and effective teachers.
There is also good reason to give serious consideration to suggestions made by older people. For example, an experienced brother suggested that the door of a certain Kingdom Hall not be placed on the west side of the building. Younger brothers more concerned about the supposed beauty of the structure did not follow his suggestion. After several years, however, the door had to be relocated because the constant wind and rain from the west had caused its deterioration. The practical wisdom of experience outweighed the aesthetic factors. If younger individuals honor older ones by listening to their opinions and practical wisdom, this may well save time and money. Even if the older person’s suggestion is not followed, he can be honored by letting him know that it was considered, but other factors led to another decision.—Compare Proverbs 1:8.
Look Ahead, Not Back
Some older people take this view: “There is no time like old times when you and I were young.” Rather than dwelling on times gone by, however, such elderly ones can be encouraged to look ahead to the day when they will either gain their heavenly reward or regain youthful vigor under the rule of God’s Kingdom. Meanwhile, they need to be aware of their limitations due to age. This awareness and a keen sense of humor are invaluable when an older person is apparently overlooked for privileges of service.
For example, an older brother may have been used regularly on district convention programs years ago. Now there are many capable elders and a wider selection of men with teaching abilities. Though relatively young, some of these elders have proven zeal and abilities, can teach well and give kind exhortation, and are able to encourage others. (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13; 1 Timothy 5:17) As a result, an older brother not appearing on the convention program may feel overlooked and may not be happy that the privileges have been given to younger elders. Yet, that negative feeling stemming from human imperfection can be surmounted. In fact, all in the congregation can help by letting older ones know that they are needed, that they are loved for their faithfulness, and that their opinions are valued.
Of course, an older person needs to remember that fellow worshipers must be honored just as he would like to be honored. (Matthew 7:12; Romans 12:10) Instead of feeling put out to pasture and suffering from a negative viewpoint, older ones should rejoice over their years of faithful service. And surely, all of us should be grateful that as a result of Jehovah’s blessing, there is an increasing number of qualified overseers to share the work load and to assume congregation responsibilities as crowds of “other sheep” flock to the Christian organization.—John 10:16; Isaiah 60:8, 22; 2 Timothy 2:2.
Because of pain, failing health, or other factors, gray-headed ones sometimes become irritable. This calls for understanding and empathy on the part of other members of the family or congregation. It also requires that the older ones work hard to maintain a positive attitude, to stay young in heart and mind. When the younger roommate of a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses was leaving Bethel some years ago, the older man asked him to suggest a good replacement and said that he would prefer a younger, mature brother to help him stay young and active. The older anointed brother was not about to retire or take it easy, for there was work to be done. What a fine example of looking ahead and maintaining a positive outlook!
Unquestionably, “the beauty of young men is their power, and the splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.” How wonderful it is when younger people use their energies and older ones apply their wisdom in pursuing the way of righteousness! Old and young Christians alike experience great joy as they unitedly promote the true worship of Jehovah God, “the Ancient of Days.”—Daniel 7:13.
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Gray-headed Christians have much to offer for the benefit of others