“You must show honor to an older man.”—LEV. 19:32.
1. In what sad state does humanity find itself?
JEHOVAH never intended for humans to suffer the debilitating effects of aging. On the contrary, his purpose was that men and women enjoy perfect health in Paradise. But now “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain.” (Rom. 8:22) How do you think God must feel when he observes the ravages of sin in humans? Moreover, many elderly ones experience neglect at a time in their lives when they need more assistance.—Ps. 39:5; 2 Tim. 3:3.
2. Why do Christians have particular regard for the elderly?
2 Jehovah’s people are grateful that there are elderly ones in the congregations. We benefit from their wisdom and are inspired by their example of faith. Many of us are related to one or more of these dear older ones. Yet, whether we are related to elderly brothers and sisters or not, we take an interest in their welfare. (Gal. 6:10; 1 Pet. 1:22) It will benefit all of us to examine God’s view of the elderly. We will also consider the responsibilities of family members as well as the congregation with regard to our beloved older ones.
“DO NOT CAST ME OFF”
3, 4. (a) What significant request did the writer of Psalm 71 make to Jehovah? (b) What can senior members of the congregation ask of God?
3 “Do not cast me off in my old age; do not abandon me when my strength fails,” the inspired writer of Psalm 71:9 implored God. This psalm appears to be a continuation of Psalm 70, which bears the superscription “Of David.” So David likely made the request we read at Psalm 71:9. He served God from his youth to his advanced years, and Jehovah used him in mighty ways. (1 Sam. 17:33-37, 50; 1 Ki. 2:1-3, 10) Even so, David felt the need to ask Jehovah to continue to show him favor.—Read Psalm 71:17, 18.
4 Many today are like David. Despite advancing years and “days of distress,” they continue to praise God to the best of their ability. (Eccl. 12:1-7) Many of them may not be able to do all that they once did in various aspects of life, including the ministry. But they too can implore Jehovah to continue to smile on them and take care of them. Such faithful older ones can be sure that God will answer their prayers. After all, those prayers echo the same legitimate concerns that David expressed under divine inspiration.
5. How does Jehovah view faithful older ones?
5 The Scriptures make it plain that Jehovah highly values faithful older ones and that he expects his servants to honor such ones. (Ps. 22:24-26; Prov. 16:31; 20:29) “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show honor to an older man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah,” says Leviticus 19:32. Yes, honoring the older ones in the congregation was a serious responsibility when those words were written, and it is down to this day. What, though, about actually providing care for them? Whose responsibility is that?
THE FAMILY’S RESPONSIBILITY
6. What example did Jesus set in caring for a parent?
6 God’s Word tells us: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2) Jesus underscored this commandment by condemning the Pharisees and scribes who refused to provide for their parents. (Mark 7:5, 10-13) Jesus himself set a good example. For instance, when he was at the point of death on the stake, Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, who was apparently then a widow, to his beloved disciple John.—John 19:26, 27.
7. (a) The apostle Paul set out what principle about providing for parents? (b) What is the context of Paul’s words?
7 The apostle Paul was inspired to write that believers should provide for their own households. (Read 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16.) Consider the context of what Paul wrote to Timothy. Paul discussed who might and who might not qualify to receive financial support from the congregation. He made it plain that believing children, grandchildren, and other relatives of elderly widows were to be the primary providers. Thus, no unnecessary financial burden would be on the congregation. Likewise today, one of the ways in which Christians practice “godly devotion” is by providing materially for relatives in need.
8. What wisdom is evident in the Bible’s offering no specific solutions when it comes to caring for elderly parents?
8 Simply put, adult Christian children have an obligation to make sure that their parents’ material needs are met. Paul was discussing believing relatives, but parents who are not members of the Christian congregation should not be neglected. Exactly how children provide care varies. No two situations are alike. The needs, temperament, and health of those involved differ. Some older ones have many children; others just one child. Some can count on support from the State; others cannot. Personal preferences of those needing care also differ. Thus, it would not be wise or loving to criticize the way in which someone is trying to care for aged relatives. Jehovah, after all, can bless any Scriptural decision and make it work, which has been true since Moses’ day.—Num. 11:23.
9-11. (a) What difficult situations may some face? (See opening image.) (b) Why should adult children not be hasty about leaving the full-time service? Illustrate.
9 When parents and children live far apart, it can be challenging to provide elderly parents with necessary help. A sudden deterioration in a parent’s health, perhaps as a result of a fall, a broken bone, or some other crisis, may precipitate a need to visit Mom and Dad. Thereafter, they may need assistance—perhaps temporarily or perhaps on a long-term basis.*
10 Full-time servants whose theocratic assignments have taken them far from home may face particularly difficult decisions. Those serving as Bethelites, missionaries, and traveling overseers all view their assignment as precious, as a blessing from Jehovah. Still, if their parents get sick, the first reaction might be, ‘We need to leave our assignment and return home to look after our parents.’ Yet, it would be wise to consider prayerfully whether that is what the parents really need or desire. No one should hastily give up service privileges, and it may not always be necessary. Could the health issue be temporary, one with which some in the parents’ congregation would be happy to help?—Prov. 21:5.
11 Consider, for example, the case of two fleshly brothers who served far from home. One was a missionary in South America, the other worked at world headquarters, in Brooklyn, New York. The brothers’ elderly parents needed help. The sons and their wives visited the parents in the Far East to see what help could best be provided and how. In time, the couple in South America were weighing leaving their assignment to return home. Then they received a telephone call from the coordinator of the body of elders in the parents’ congregation. Those elders had discussed the situation and wanted the missionaries to continue in their assignment as long as possible. The elders appreciated this couple’s service and were determined to do all they could to help them care for their parents. All in the family appreciated the loving concern.
12. What should be the concern of a Christian family regarding any caregiving decision that they make?
12 Whatever strategy a Christian family adopts to care for the needs of elderly parents, all concerned will certainly want to make sure that it reflects well on God’s name. Never would we want to be like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. (Matt. 15:3-6) We want our decisions to honor God and the congregation.—2 Cor. 6:3.
THE CONGREGATION’S RESPONSIBILITY
13, 14. Why can we conclude from the Scriptures that congregations are interested in the care of elderly members?
13 Not all can assist full-time ministers in the above-mentioned way. However, it is clear from a situation that arose in the first century that congregations are interested in caring for the needs of exemplary older brothers and sisters. The Bible says about the Jerusalem congregation that “no one was in need among them.” It was not that all were materially well-off. Evidently, some had little materially, but “distribution would be made to each one according to his need.” (Acts 4:34, 35) Later, a situation developed locally. It was reported that certain “widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution” of food. So the apostles directed the appointment of qualified men who, in turn, made arrangements to ensure that the widows’ needs were adequately and equitably met. (Acts 6:1-5) It is true that the daily distribution was a temporary arrangement designed to meet the needs of ones who became Christians at Pentecost 33 C.E. and who remained for a time in Jerusalem to be built up spiritually. Even so, the apostles’ response illustrates that the congregation can help to care for needy members.
14 As noted, Paul gave Timothy instructions outlining the circumstances under which Christian widows would qualify for material assistance from the congregation. (1 Tim. 5:3-16) The inspired Bible writer James likewise acknowledged the Christian obligation to look after orphans, widows, and others in cases of tribulation or need. (Jas. 1:27; 2:15-17) The apostle John too reasoned: “Whoever has the material possessions of this world and sees his brother in need and yet refuses to show him compassion, in what way does the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17) If individual Christians have such obligations toward the needy, is that not also true of the congregations?
15. When assisting elderly brothers and sisters, what factors may be involved?
15 In some lands, governmental authorities provide pensions, welfare programs, and home-care attendants for senior citizens. (Rom. 13:6) Elsewhere, no such organized services exist. Hence, how much physical assistance relatives and the congregation need to provide for older brothers and sisters varies from situation to situation. If believing children live far from their parents, it may affect how much help the children reasonably are in a position to provide. The children would do well to communicate freely with the elders of their parents’ congregation to make sure that all understand the family’s circumstances. For instance, the elders may be able to help out by assisting the parents to learn about and benefit from governmental or social programs locally. They may also observe situations—such as unopened bills or mismanaged medication—that they can bring to the attention of adult children. Such well-motivated and kind interchanges of information can prevent a situation from getting worse and may well lead to practical solutions. Clearly, on-the-spot helpers and advisers, who effectively act as the children’s “eyes,” may alleviate the worries of a family.
16. How do some Christians help older members of the congregation?
16 Out of affection for beloved older ones, some Christians have volunteered their time and energy to meet whatever needs they reasonably can. They make it a point to show extra interest in older members of the congregation. Some volunteers divide the tasks with others in the congregation and care for older ones on a rotation basis. While realizing that their own circumstances do not allow them to engage in the full-time ministry, they are happy to assist the children to remain in their chosen careers as long as possible. What an excellent spirit such brothers show! Of course, their generosity does not relieve children of the responsibility to do what they can for their parents.
HONOR OLDER ONES WITH STRENGTHENING WORDS
17, 18. What part does attitude play when it comes to caring for elderly ones?
17 All involved in the caregiving process can endeavor to make the experience as pleasant as possible. If you have a role in this, do your utmost to maintain a positive spirit. In some cases, aging causes despondency, even depression. You may thus need to put forth special effort to honor and encourage older brothers and sisters by keeping conversations with them upbuilding. Those who have a good record of dedicated service are to be commended. Jehovah does not forget what they have done to serve him, and neither do fellow Christians.—Read Malachi 3:16; Hebrews 6:10.
18 Additionally, difficult day-to-day arrangements can be made more bearable when the elderly and their caregivers use humor at appropriate times. (Eccl. 3:1, 4) Many of the elderly make a point of not being overly demanding. They realize that the attention and visits they receive may be affected by their disposition. It is not uncommon for visitors to comment, “I went to encourage an older friend, but I left feeling encouraged myself.”—Prov. 15:13; 17:22.
19. What outlook can young and old alike have as to the future?
19 We long for the day when suffering and the effects of imperfection will end. In the meantime, God’s servants must keep their hope fixed on what is everlasting. We know that faith in God’s promises is an anchor in times of distress or tribulation. Thanks to that faith, “we do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 6:18, 19) In addition to maintaining strong faith in God’s promises, though, what can help you meet the responsibilities of caregiving? Some practical suggestions will be considered in the following article.
The following article will consider some of the care options that may be open to the elderly and their children.