Caring for the Elderly—A Christian Responsibility
“Even to one’s old age I am the same One; and to one’s gray-headedness I myself shall keep bearing up.”—ISAIAH 46:4.
1, 2. How does our heavenly Father’s care differ from that given by human parents?
DEVOTED parents nurture their children through infancy, childhood, and the teenage years. Even when young people reach adulthood and have their own families, their fathers and mothers continue to give them loving attention and support.
2 Although there is a limit to what humans can do for their children, our heavenly Father is always able to give his faithful servants loving attention and support. Addressing his chosen people of ancient times, Jehovah stated: “Even to one’s old age I am the same One; and to one’s gray-headedness I myself shall keep bearing up.” (Isaiah 46:4) What reassuring words these are for older Christians! Jehovah does not abandon those who remain loyal to him. Rather, he promises to sustain, support, and guide them throughout their lives, even into old age.—Psalm 48:14.
3. What will be considered in this article?
3 How can we imitate Jehovah’s loving concern for the elderly? (Ephesians 5:1, 2) Let us consider ways in which children, congregation overseers, and individual Christians can care for the needs of senior members of our worldwide brotherhood.
Our Responsibility as Children
4. What responsibility do Christian children have toward their parents?
4 “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ephesians 6:2; Exodus 20:12) With this simple yet profound quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, the apostle Paul reminded children of the responsibility they have toward their parents. But how do these words apply to caring for the elderly? A heartwarming example from pre-Christian times will help us answer this question.
5. (a) What indicates that Joseph had not forgotten his filial duties? (b) What does it mean to honor our parents, and what fine example did Joseph set in this regard?
5 For more than 20 years, Joseph had no contact with his elderly father, the patriarch Jacob. However, Joseph had evidently not lost his filial love for Jacob. In fact, when Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers, he asked: “Is my father still alive?” (Genesis 43:7, 27; 45:3) At that time, the land of Canaan was in the grip of famine. Thus, Joseph sent word to his father, saying: “Come down to me. Do not delay. And you must dwell in the land of Goshen, and you must continue near me . . . And I will supply you with food there.” (Genesis 45:9-11; 47:12) Yes, honoring aged parents includes protecting them and providing for them materially when they are not in a position to care for themselves. (1 Samuel 22:1-4; John 19:25-27) Joseph gladly accepted this responsibility.
6. How did Joseph demonstrate genuine love for his father, and how can we imitate his example?
6 With Jehovah’s blessing, Joseph had become one of Egypt’s richest and most powerful men. (Genesis 41:40) But he did not consider himself too important or too busy to honor his 130-year-old father. On learning that Jacob (or Israel) was approaching, “Joseph had his chariot made ready and went up to meet Israel his father at Goshen. When he appeared to him he at once fell upon his neck and gave way to tears upon his neck again and again.” (Genesis 46:28, 29) This welcome was much more than a formal show of respect. Joseph dearly loved his elderly father and was not ashamed to demonstrate his love. If we have aging parents, are we similarly unstinting in our expressions of affection for them?
7. Why did Jacob wish to be buried in Canaan?
7 Jacob’s devotion to Jehovah remained strong to the end of his life. (Hebrews 11:21) Because of his faith in divine promises, Jacob asked that his remains be buried in Canaan. Joseph honored his father by complying with this request, despite the considerable cost and effort involved.—Genesis 47:29-31; 50:7-14.
8. (a) What is our chief motivation in caring for elderly parents? (b) What did one full-time servant do in order to care for his aging parents? (See box on page 17.)
8 What motivated Joseph to care for his father? While love and a sense of indebtedness to the one who had given him life and who had nurtured him were factors, Joseph no doubt also felt a keen desire to please Jehovah. So should we. Paul wrote: “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.” (1 Timothy 5:4) Indeed, love for Jehovah and reverential fear of him will move us to care for aging parents, no matter what challenges doing so may involve.*
How Elders Show That They Care
9. Who has Jehovah appointed to shepherd the flock, including elderly Christians?
9 Near the end of his long life, Jacob referred to Jehovah as “the true God who has been shepherding me during all my existence until this day.” (Genesis 48:15) Today, Jehovah shepherds his earthly servants by means of Christian overseers, or elders, under the direction of his Son, Jesus Christ, “the chief shepherd.” (1 Peter 5:2-4) How can overseers imitate Jehovah as they care for the older members of the flock?
10. What has been done to provide material help for elderly Christians? (See box on page 19.)
10 Shortly after the inception of the Christian congregation, the apostles appointed “seven certified men . . . full of spirit and wisdom” to supervise “the daily distribution” of food among needy Christian widows. (Acts 6:1-6) Later, Paul instructed the overseer Timothy to put exemplary aged widows on the list of those who were entitled to receive material help. (1 Timothy 5:3, 9, 10) Likewise, congregation overseers today willingly coordinate practical assistance for elderly Christians when this is necessary. However, more is involved in caring for faithful older ones.
11. What did Jesus say about the needy widow who offered a small contribution?
11 Near the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus sat down at the temple and “began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests.” Then someone caught his attention. Says the account: “A poor widow came and dropped in two small coins, which have very little value.” Jesus called his disciples to him and told them: “Truly I say to you that this poor widow dropped in more than all those dropping money into the treasury chests; for they all dropped in out of their surplus, but she, out of her want, dropped in all of what she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12:41-44) In monetary terms, the widow’s contribution was small, but Jesus knew how much his heavenly Father values such whole-souled expressions of devotion. Regardless of the poor widow’s age, Jesus did not overlook what she did.
12. How can elders show their appreciation for the contribution made by elderly Christians?
12 Like Jesus, Christian overseers do not overlook what the elderly do to promote true worship. Elders have reason to commend older ones for their share in the ministry, for their participation in meetings, for their positive influence in the congregation, and for their endurance. A sincere word of encouragement can help the elderly find “cause for exultation” in their sacred service, thus avoiding frustrating comparisons with what other Christians are able to do or with their own past accomplishments.—Galatians 6:4.
13. In what ways can elders draw on the talents and experience of older ones?
13 Elders can acknowledge the valuable contribution made by older Christians by drawing on their experience and talents. Exemplary elderly ones may occasionally be used in demonstrations or interviews. “The audience really sits up and listens when I interview an older brother or sister who has reared children in the truth,” observes one elder. Elders in another congregation report that a 71-year-old pioneer sister has been successful in helping Kingdom publishers to become regular in field service. She also encourages them to do the “basics,” such as reading the Bible and the daily text and then meditating on what they read.
14. How did one body of elders show appreciation for an older fellow overseer?
14 Elders also value the contribution of older fellow overseers. José, who is in his 70’s and has served as an elder for decades, recently underwent extensive surgery. Faced with a long convalescence, he thought of relinquishing his privilege of serving as a presiding overseer. “The reaction of the other elders surprised me,” says José. “Instead of accepting my suggestion, they asked what practical help I needed in order to continue caring for my responsibilities.” With the assistance of a younger elder, José was able to continue serving joyfully as presiding overseer, and this has been a blessing to the congregation. A fellow elder states: “The brothers greatly appreciate José’s work as an elder. They love and respect him for his experience and example of faith. He enriches our congregation.”
Caring for One Another
15. Why should all Christians be interested in the well-being of the elderly among them?
15 It is not only children with aged parents and appointed servants who should be concerned about the elderly. Comparing the Christian congregation to the human body, Paul wrote: “God compounded the body, giving honor more abundant to the part which had a lack, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have the same care for one another.” (1 Corinthians 12:24, 25) Another translation reads: “All the different parts of [the body are] to make each other’s welfare their common care.” (Knox) For the Christian congregation to function harmoniously, each member must be concerned about the well-being of his fellow believers, including the elderly.—Galatians 6:2.
16. How can we show interest in the elderly when we attend Christian meetings?
16 Christian meetings afford a fine opportunity to show our interest in the elderly. (Philippians 2:4; Hebrews 10:24, 25) Do we take time to converse with older ones on such occasions? While it may be appropriate to inquire about their physical well-being, could we “impart some spiritual gift,” perhaps by sharing an upbuilding experience or a Scriptural thought? Since some older ones have limited mobility, it would be kind to go to them rather than expect them to come to us. If hearing is a problem, we may need to speak slowly and enunciate clearly. And if there is to be a true “interchange of encouragement,” we must listen attentively to what the older person says.—Romans 1:11, 12.
17. How can we show our concern for elderly Christians who are housebound?
17 What if certain older ones cannot attend Christian meetings? James 1:27 shows that it is our duty “to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.” One meaning of the Greek verb translated “to look after” is “to visit.” (Acts 15:36) And how the elderly appreciate our visits! While imprisoned in Rome about 65 C.E., the “aged man” Paul found himself practically alone. He longed to see his fellow worker Timothy and wrote: “Do your utmost to come to me shortly.” (Philemon 9; 2 Timothy 1:3, 4; 4:9) Although they are not literally prisoners, some elderly ones are housebound because of health problems. In effect, they may be saying, ‘Please, do your best to visit me soon.’ Are we responding to such appeals?
18. What benefits can result from our visiting the elderly?
18 Never underestimate the beneficial effects of visiting an elderly spiritual brother or sister. When a Christian named Onesiphorus was in Rome, he diligently looked for Paul, found him, and thereafter ‘often brought him refreshment.’ (2 Timothy 1:16, 17) “I love spending time with younger ones,” says one elderly sister. “What I like most is that they treat me like a member of their family. It lifts my spirits.” Another older Christian states: “I really appreciate it when someone sends me a card, calls me on the phone for just a few minutes, or visits me for a while. It is like a breath of fresh air.”
Jehovah Rewards Those Who Care
19. What blessings come from caring for the elderly?
19 Caring for older ones results in many blessings. Associating with the elderly and being able to draw on their knowledge and experience is in itself a privilege. Caregivers experience the greater happiness that comes from giving, as well as a sense of accomplishment and inner peace from having fulfilled their Scriptural responsibility. (Acts 20:35) Moreover, those who care for the elderly need not fear that they themselves will be abandoned in their later years. God’s Word assures us: “The generous soul will itself be made fat, and the one freely watering others will himself also be freely watered.”—Proverbs 11:25.
20, 21. How does Jehovah view those who care for the elderly, and what should be our determination?
20 Jehovah rewards God-fearing children, overseers, and other caring Christians for unselfishly tending to the needs of elderly fellow believers. Such a spirit is in line with this proverb: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” (Proverbs 19:17) If love prompts us to show favor to the lowly and the poor, God considers such giving to be a loan that he repays with blessings. He also repays us for giving loving care to our elderly fellow worshipers, many of whom are ‘poor respecting the world but rich in faith.’—James 2:5.
21 How generous God’s repayment is! It includes everlasting life. For the vast majority of Jehovah’s servants, that will be life eternal on a paradise earth, where the effects of inherited sin will be eliminated and faithful elderly ones will enjoy the restoration of their youthful vigor. (Revelation 21:3-5) While we await that blessed time, may we continue to fulfill our Christian responsibility to care for the elderly.
For practical suggestions on how to care for elderly parents, see Awake! of February 8, 1994, pages 3-10.
What Are Your Answers?
• How can children honor aged parents?
• How do elders show appreciation for older members of the flock?
• What can individual Christians do to show their genuine interest in the elderly?
• What blessings result from caring for elderly Christians?
[Box on page 17]
When His Parents Needed Help
Philip was serving as a volunteer construction worker in Liberia in 1999 when he received news that his father was critically ill. Convinced that his mother would be unable to cope on her own, he decided to return home to organize medical care for his father.
“It was not easy going back,” recalls Philip, “but I felt that my first obligation was to my parents.” Over the next three years, he moved his parents to a more suitable home and with the help of local fellow Christians adapted the dwelling to accommodate his father’s special needs.
Philip’s mother is now better prepared to cope with his father’s serious health problems. Recently, Philip was able to accept an invitation to work as a volunteer at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Macedonia.
[Box on page 19]
They Have Not Ignored Her Needs
When Ada, an 85-year-old Christian in Australia, became confined to her home because of poor health, congregation elders arranged to provide assistance. They organized a group of fellow believers who could help her. These brothers and sisters were glad to care for such jobs as cleaning, washing, cooking, and running errands.
That assistance was started nearly a decade ago. So far, more than 30 fellow Witnesses of Jehovah have helped to care for Ada. They continue to visit her, reading to her from Bible publications, keeping her informed as to the spiritual progress of those in the congregation, and regularly praying with her.
A local Christian elder commented: “Those who care for Ada deem it a privilege to help her. Many have been inspired by her faithful service over the decades, and they simply could not imagine ignoring her needs.”
[Picture on page 16]
Are we generous in our expressions of affection for elderly parents?
[Pictures on page 18]
All in the congregation can demonstrate their love for elderly fellow believers