The Christian Family Helps the Elderly
“Do not throw me away in the time of old age; just when my power is failing, do not leave me.”—PSALM 71:9.
1. How are the elderly treated in many cultures?
“SURVEYS indicate that nearly six in seven (86%) of the abused aged are mistreated by their own families,” said The Wall Street Journal. The magazine Modern Maturity stated: “Abuse of the elderly is only the latest [family violence] to make its way out of the closet and onto the pages of the nation’s newspapers.” Yes, the elderly in many cultures have become victims of gross abuse and neglect. Ours is truly a time when many are “lovers of themselves, . . . unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection.”—2 Timothy 3:1-3.
2. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, how does Jehovah view the elderly?
2 Yet, that is not how the elderly were to be treated in ancient Israel. The Law stated: “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.” The book of inspired wise proverbs counsels us: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” It commands: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” The Mosaic Law taught respect and regard for older ones of both sexes. Clearly, Jehovah desires that the elderly be honored.—Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 1:8; 23:22.
Caring for the Elderly in Bible Times
3. How did Joseph show compassion for his aged father?
3 Respect was to be shown not just in words but also in considerate actions. Joseph showed great compassion for his elderly father. He wanted Jacob to make the journey from Canaan to Egypt, a distance of over 200 miles [300 km]. So Joseph sent to Jacob “ten asses carrying good things of Egypt and ten she-asses carrying grain and bread and sustenance for his father for the way.” When Jacob arrived in Goshen, Joseph went to him and “at once fell upon his neck and gave way to tears upon his neck again and again.” Joseph showered his father with deep affection. What an inspiring example of concern for the elderly!—Genesis 45:23; 46:5, 29.
4. Why is Ruth a fine example to follow?
4 Another beautiful model to follow in kindness for the elderly is Ruth. Although a Gentile, she stuck with her elderly, widowed Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi. She abandoned her own people and took the risk of not finding another husband. When Naomi urged her to return to her own people, Ruth answered with some of the most beautiful words in the Bible: “Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you.” (Ruth 1:16, 17) Ruth also showed fine qualities when she was willing to marry elderly Boaz under the levirate marriage arrangement.—Ruth, chapters 2 to 4.
5. What qualities did Jesus show in dealing with people?
5 Jesus set a similar example in his dealings with people. He was patient, compassionate, kind, and refreshing. He took a personal interest in a poor man who had been disabled, unable to walk, for 38 years and cured him. He showed consideration for widows. (Luke 7:11-15; John 5:1-9) Even during the agony of his painful death on the torture stake, he made sure that his mother, possibly in her early 50’s, would be taken care of. Except to his hypocritical enemies, Jesus was refreshing company for everyone. Thus, he could say: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.”—Matthew 9:36; 11:28, 29; John 19:25-27.
Who Deserve Consideration?
6. (a) Who are deserving of special care? (b) What questions might we ask ourselves?
6 Since Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ, set such fine examples in the matter of caring, it is only appropriate that dedicated Christians imitate their pattern. In our midst we have some who have toiled and been loaded down for many years—elderly brothers and sisters who have entered the autumn years of their lives. Some may be our parents or grandparents. Do we take them for granted? Are we patronizing and condescending with them? Or do we truly appreciate their extensive experience and wisdom? True, some might test our patience with the idiosyncrasies and foibles that are not uncommon to old age. But ask yourself, ‘How different would I be under those circumstances?’
7. What illustrates the need for having empathy with older people?
7 There is a touching story from the Middle East about a young girl’s compassion for the elderly. A grandmother was helping in the kitchen and accidentally dropped and broke a china plate. She was upset by her own clumsiness; her daughter was even more irritated. She then called her own little girl and sent her to the local store to buy an unbreakable wooden plate for the grandmother. The girl came back with two wooden plates. Her mother demanded: “Why did you buy two plates?” The granddaughter, hesitating, answered: “One for grandma and the other for you when you are old.” Yes, in this world all of us face the prospect of aging. Would we not appreciate being treated with patience and kindness?—Psalm 71:9.
8, 9. (a) How should we treat the older ones in our midst? (b) What do some of those who recently became Christians need to remember?
8 Never forget that many of our elderly brothers and sisters have behind them a long record of faithful Christian activity. They certainly deserve our honor and consideration, our kind help and encouragement. The wise man correctly said: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” And that gray head, male or female, should be respected. Some of these older men and women are still serving as faithful pioneers, and many men continue to serve faithfully as elders in the congregations; some do exemplary work as traveling overseers.—Proverbs 16:31.
9 Paul counseled Timothy: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Those who have recently come into the Christian congregation out of a disrespectful world should especially take to heart Paul’s words, which are based on love. Young ones, do not imitate the bad attitudes you might have seen at school. Do not resent the kind counsel of older Witnesses. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Hebrews 12:5, 6, 11) However, when the elderly because of poor health or financial problems need help, who have the primary responsibility to assist them?
The Family’s Role in Caring for the Elderly
10, 11. (a) According to the Bible, who should take the lead in caring for the elderly? (b) Why is it not always easy to care for the elderly?
10 In the early Christian congregation, problems arose over the care of widows. How did the apostle Paul indicate that such needs should be met? “Honor widows that are actually widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight. Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:3, 4, 8.
11 In times of need, close family members should be the first to help elderly ones.* In this way, grown children can show appreciation for the years of love, work, and care that their parents provided. This may not be easy. As people get older, they naturally slow down, and some even become incapacitated. Others may become self-centered and demanding, perhaps without realizing it. But when we were babies, were we not also self-centered and demanding? And did not our parents come running to help us? Now things have changed in their old age. So, what is needed? Compassion and patience.—Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.
12. What qualities are needed in caring for older ones—and all others in the Christian congregation?
12 The apostle Paul gave practical counsel when he wrote: “Accordingly, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.” If we ought to show this kind of compassion and love in the congregation, should we not show it even more in the family?—Colossians 3:12-14.
13. Who, besides elderly parents or grandparents, might need help?
13 Sometimes this kind of help may be needed not just by parents or grandparents but also by other elderly relatives. Some older ones who do not have children have served for many years in missionary service, the traveling ministry, and other full-time activity. They have genuinely put the Kingdom first throughout their lives. (Matthew 6:33) Would it not be appropriate, then, to show them a caring spirit? Certainly we have a fine example in the way the Watch Tower Society cares for its elderly Bethel members. At Bethel headquarters in Brooklyn and at a number of the Society’s branches, several aged brothers and sisters get daily attention from trained family members assigned to this duty. They are happy to care for these older ones as if they were their own parents or grandparents. At the same time, they learn much from the older ones’ experience.—Proverbs 22:17.
The Congregation’s Role in Caring
14. What provision was made for the elderly in the early Christian congregation?
14 Many countries today have old-age pension systems as well as State-provided medical care for the elderly. Christians can make full use of these provisions where they are entitled to do so. However, in the first century, there were no such provisions. Therefore the Christian congregation took positive action to help the destitute widows. Paul directed: “Let a widow be put on the list [for congregation aid] who has become not less than sixty years old, a wife of one husband, having a witness borne to her for fine works, if she reared children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed the feet of holy ones, if she relieved those in tribulation, if she diligently followed every good work.” Thus, Paul showed that the congregation also has a role in helping the elderly. Spiritually minded women who did not have believing children qualified for such help.—1 Timothy 5:9, 10.
15. Why might help be needed in order to obtain State aid?
15 Where there are State provisions for the elderly, these usually involve paperwork that might seem daunting. In such cases it is appropriate for the overseers in the congregation to arrange for help to be given so that the elderly can apply for, collect, or even upgrade such aid. Sometimes changes of circumstances can result in an increased pension. But there are also many other practical things that the overseers can organize so that the elderly are cared for. What are some of these?
16, 17. In what different ways might we show hospitality to the elderly in the congregation?
16 Showing hospitality is a custom stretching back to Bible times. To this day in many Middle Eastern countries, hospitality is shown to strangers, at least to the point of offering a cup of tea or coffee. It is not surprising, then, that Paul wrote: “Share with the holy ones according to their needs. Follow the course of hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) The Greek word for hospitality, phi·lo·xe·niʹa, literally means “love of (fondness for, or kindness to) strangers.” If the Christian should be hospitable to strangers, should he not be even more hospitable to those who are related to him in the faith? An invitation to a meal often represents a welcome break in the routine of an older person. If you want the voice of wisdom and experience at your social gatherings, include the elderly.—Compare Luke 14:12-14.
17 There are many ways that older ones can be encouraged. If we form a car group to go to the Kingdom Hall or to an assembly, are there some older persons who would welcome a ride? Do not wait for them to ask. Offer to take them. Another practical help is to do their shopping. Or if they are able, might we take them along with us on our shopping trip? But make sure that there are places where they can rest and refresh themselves in case that should become necessary. No doubt patience and kindness will be called for, but an elderly person’s sincere gratitude can be very rewarding.—2 Corinthians 1:11.
A Beautiful Asset to the Congregation
18. Why are the older ones a blessing to the congregation?
18 What a blessing it is to see some gray and white hair (and also heads bald with age) in a congregation! It means that among the vitality and vigor of the younger ones, we have a sprinkling of wisdom and experience—a real asset to any congregation. Their knowledge is like refreshing water that has to be drawn from a well. It is as Proverbs 18:4 puts it: “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters. The well of wisdom is a torrent bubbling forth.” How encouraging it is for older ones to feel that they are wanted and appreciated!—Compare Psalm 92:14.
19. How have some made sacrifices for their elderly parents?
19 Some in full-time service have felt the need to give up their privileges in order to return home to care for elderly, sick parents. They have made a sacrifice for those who formerly sacrificed for them. One couple, formerly missionaries and still in full-time service, returned home to care for their elderly parents. This they have done for over 20 years. Four years ago the man’s mother had to be put in a nursing home. The husband, who is now in his 60’s, visits his 93-year-old mother every day. He explains: “How could I abandon her? She is my mother!” In other cases congregations and individuals have come forward and offered to keep an eye on older ones so that their children could remain in their assignments. Such selfless love is also worthy of great commendation. Each situation has to be handled conscientiously because the elderly are not to be neglected. Show that you love your elderly parents.—Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2, 3.
20. What example has Jehovah given us in caring for the elderly?
20 Indeed, our older brothers and sisters are a crown of beauty for a family or a congregation. Jehovah said: “Even to one’s old age I am the same One; and to one’s gray-headedness I myself shall keep bearing up. I myself shall certainly act, that I myself may carry and that I myself may bear up and furnish escape.” May we show the same patience and care toward our older brothers and sisters in the Christian family.—Isaiah 46:4; Proverbs 16:31.
For detailed suggestions on what family members can do to help the elderly, see The Watchtower, June 1, 1987, pages 13-18.
Do You Remember?
□ What Bible examples do we have of caring for the elderly?
□ How should we treat the elderly?
□ How can family members care for their elderly loved ones?
□ What can the congregation do to help the elderly?
□ Why are the elderly a blessing to all of us?
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Ruth showed elderly Naomi kindness and respect
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The elderly are valued members of the congregation