“You must show honor to an older man.”—LEVITICUS 19:32.
1. What sad situation do humans face today?
JEHOVAH never wanted humans to suffer, become weak, and grow old. His purpose was that men and women enjoy perfect health in Paradise. But now “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain.” (Romans 8:22) How do you think God feels when he sees humans suffer the tragic results of sin? It is sad to see that many elderly ones are neglected at a time when they need more assistance.—Psalm 39:5; 2 Timothy 3:3.
2. Why are Christians very grateful to have elderly ones in the congregations?
2 Jehovah’s people are grateful that there are elderly ones in the congregations. We benefit from their wisdom, and we want to follow their example of faith. Many of us are related to these dear older ones. Yet, whether we are related to elderly brothers and sisters or not, we want to make sure that they are well cared for. (Galatians 6:10; 1 Peter 1:22) It will benefit all of us to examine how God feels about the elderly. We will also discuss the responsibilities of family members and the congregation to care for our dear older ones.
“DO NOT CAST ME OFF”
3, 4. (a) What sincere request did the writer of Psalm 71 make to Jehovah? (b) What can elderly members of the congregation ask God to do?
3 Psalm 71:9 says: “Do not cast me off in my old age; do not abandon me when my strength fails.” It was probably David who wrote these words. He served God his entire life, and Jehovah used him to do great things. (1 Samuel 17:33-37, 50; 1 Kings 2:1-3, 10) Although he had done so much for Jehovah, David had grown old and felt the need to ask Jehovah to take care of him.—Read Psalm 71:17, 18.
4 Many today are like David. Even though they are getting older and face “days of distress,” they do their best to praise God. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7) Many of them may not be able to do as much as they did before, even in the ministry. But they too can beg Jehovah to continue to bless and take care of them. Such faithful older ones can be sure that God will answer their prayers. We know this because Jehovah inspired David to pray about the same reasonable concerns.
Jehovah greatly values faithful older ones and expects his servants to honor them
5. How does Jehovah feel about faithful older ones?
5 Jehovah greatly values faithful older ones and expects his servants to honor them. (Psalm 22:24-26; Proverbs 16:31; 20:29) Leviticus 19:32 says: “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.” Yes, honoring the older ones in the congregation was a serious responsibility when those words were written, and it still is today. But whose responsibility is it to care for them?
THE FAMILY’S RESPONSIBILITY
6. What example did Jesus set in caring for his mother?
6 God’s Word tells us: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2) Jesus showed that this commandment is very important when he condemned the Pharisees and scribes who refused to care for their parents. (Mark 7:5, 10-13) Jesus himself set a good example. Even when he was on the torture stake, he was concerned about his mother, who was probably a widow. He made sure that his dear friend and disciple John would take care of her.—John 19:26, 27.
7. (a) What principle about families did Paul mention? (b) What did Paul also discuss?
7 In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote that Christians should take care of their own families. (Read 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16.) He mentioned this principle while discussing who could receive financial support from the congregation. Paul said that Christian children, grandchildren, and other relatives had the main responsibility to care for elderly widows. By doing this, there would be no unnecessary expense for the congregation. Today, too, we prove that we love God by making sure that our relatives have what they need.
8. Why does the Bible not give specific instructions about caring for elderly parents?
8 Adult children should make sure that their parents are well cared for. Paul was talking about helping “believing” relatives, but parents who are not members of the Christian congregation should also not be neglected. Family situations are not all the same, so each family must make its own decisions about how care is provided. Each person’s health, needs, and personality is different. Some older ones have many children, but others have just one child. Some can get support from the government; others cannot. Also, those needing care have different preferences. It would not be wise or loving to criticize the choices of our brothers who are trying their best to care for aged relatives. Jehovah can bless any decision that is based on the Bible. He can make our decisions work, just as he has done for his people since ancient times.—Numbers 11:23.
Adult children should make sure that their parents are well cared for
9-11. (a) What difficult decisions may some have to make? (See opening picture.) (b) Why should adult children not be quick to leave the full-time service? Give an example.
9 When parents and children live far apart, it can be difficult to give elderly parents the help they need. Children may suddenly have to visit Mom and Dad because of a fall, a broken bone, or some other serious problem. After that, parents may need assistance for a little while or even for a long time.*—See footnote.
10 Those in the full-time service who have assignments far from home may have to make very difficult decisions. Bethelites, missionaries, and traveling overseers feel that their assignment is a precious blessing from Jehovah. Still, if their parents get sick, their first reaction might be, ‘We need to leave our assignment and return home to take care of our parents.’ However, it is wise to pray and think about what parents really need or want. No one should be quick to give up an assignment from Jehovah, and it may not always be necessary. Could the health problem be temporary? Would some in the parents’ congregation be happy to help the older ones and allow their children to continue in their assignment?—Proverbs 21:5.
11 For example, an elderly couple in East Asia had two sons who served far from home. One was a missionary in South America, and the other worked at world headquarters, in Brooklyn, New York. When their parents needed help, the sons and their wives went home to see what could be done. The missionary couple were seriously thinking about leaving their assignment to take care of their parents. Then they received a telephone call from the elders in the parents’ congregation. The elders had discussed the situation and wanted the missionaries to stay in their assignment as long as possible. They appreciated the couple’s service and offered to help them care for their parents. Imagine how all in the family appreciated the elders’ loving help!
All should make sure that their decisions honor Jehovah
12. When deciding how to care for the elderly, what should a Christian family make sure of?
12 Whatever a Christian family decides to do to care for the needs of elderly parents, all should make sure that their decisions honor God’s name. We never want to be like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. (Matthew 15:3-6) Instead, we want to honor Jehovah and the congregation.—2 Corinthians 6:3.
THE CONGREGATION’S RESPONSIBILITY
13, 14. How does the Bible show that congregations should help care for elderly members?
13 Not all can help full-time servants as did the congregation mentioned above. But the Bible shows that congregations should do everything they can to help faithful older ones. In the Jerusalem congregation in the first century, “no one was in need among them.” This does not mean that all were rich. It actually seems that some had very little, but “distribution would be made to each one according to his need.” (Acts 4:34, 35) Later, though, there was a serious problem in that congregation. Some widows were not receiving “the daily distribution” of food. So, what did the apostles do? They assigned responsible men to make sure that the widows were treated fairly and given enough food. (Acts 6:1-5) This was necessary because at the time of Pentecost in the year 33, many foreign visitors became Christians and stayed in Jerusalem to strengthen their faith. So even though the distribution of food was just temporary, the apostles’ decision shows that congregations can help care for the needs of faithful older brothers and sisters.
14 Paul explained to Timothy when it would be appropriate for the congregation to help Christian widows with their material needs. (1 Timothy 5:3-16) James was inspired to write that Christians have the responsibility to care for orphans, widows, and others who suffer hard times. (James 1:27; 2:15-17) The apostle John too explained: “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) So if individual Christians have the responsibility to care for those in need, then congregations have this responsibility too.
15. What can affect the care that may be needed for elderly brothers and sisters?
15 In some countries, the government may help the elderly by providing pensions and other programs. (Romans 13:6) In other places, such programs are not available. So how much care relatives and congregations need to give will depend on the situation. If believing children live far from their parents, it may affect how much the children can do. The children need to communicate with the elders of their parents’ congregation to make sure that all understand the family’s circumstances. For example, the elders may be able to help the parents find out what assistance the government can give to older ones. They may also notice things that the children need to know about, such as important letters that have not been opened or medicine that the parents have not taken. If the children and the elders communicate openly and clearly, they may be able to find solutions. When there is someone nearby to help or give advice to family members who live far away, this can prevent a situation from getting worse, and the family may worry less.
Some in the congregation have volunteered their time and energy to help in any way they can
16. What have some Christians done to help older ones in the congregation?
16 Because they love these dear older ones, some Christians have volunteered their time and energy to help in any way they can. They treat such ones like their own family. To care for older ones, some take turns with others in the congregation. Even though they personally cannot be in the full-time service, these caring brothers and sisters may be able to help the children to stay in their assignments. Such brothers have an excellent attitude! Of course, no matter how much others help, children still have the responsibility to do what they can for their parents.
HONOR OLDER ONES WITH ENCOURAGING WORDS
17, 18. What attitude will make caregiving pleasant?
17 Older ones and those who care for them can make a difficult situation easier when they keep a positive attitude. Sometimes growing old can cause a person to become discouraged or even depressed. So special effort may be needed to honor and encourage older brothers and sisters. How can you do this? Keep conversations with them positive. These dear ones have remained faithful to Jehovah and should be commended. Jehovah does not forget all that they have done to serve him, and neither do we.—Read Malachi 3:16; Hebrews 6:10.
18 Daily tasks will be much easier when everybody has a good sense of humor. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4) Also, many older ones try their best not to be demanding. They understand that they may receive more attention and visits if they are kind. Many who visit older ones often say, “I went to encourage an older friend, but I left feeling encouraged myself.”—Proverbs 15:13; 17:22.
Our faith in God’s promises keeps us strong during difficult times
19. What can help young and old to stay strong during difficult times?
19 We look forward to the day when old age, suffering, and imperfection will end. Until that time, God’s servants must focus on their hope for a future that will last forever. Our faith in God’s promises keeps us strong during difficult times. Because we have 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 Corinthians 4:16-18; Hebrews 6:18, 19) What else can help those who have the responsibility to care for older ones? Some helpful suggestions will be discussed in the next article.
The following article will discuss some of the options that may be available to the elderly and their children.