You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32, N.K.J.V.)
Every pastor feels the not-so-subtle pressure to keep the young people (and their parents) happy at church. Statements such as, “The young people are the future of the church” become so stamped onto a pastor’s brain that they become nothing less than official church doctrine. The result is that the wants, desires, and preferences of young people (and their parents) oftentimes trump those of all other age groups in the church.
However, when we come to the Bible we find that the elderly are the age group to whom God would have us give the most honor. Our text verse is a perfect example of this truth, but there are plenty of other passages that present this same teaching. Consider the following (all from the N.K.J.V.):
- Job 12:12: Wisdom is with aged men, And with length of days, understanding.
- Job 32:4-6: Now because they were years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job. When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, his wrath was aroused. So Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are very old; Therefore I was afraid, And dared not declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Age should speak, And multitude of years should teach wisdom.'”
- Proverbs 16:31: The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, It is found in the way of righteousness.
- Proverbs 20:29: The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head.
- Proverbs 23:22: Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.
- 1 Timothy 5:1: Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as a father…
In 1 Kings 12:6-16, we find the story of how King Rehoboam, Solomon’s heir to the throne, foolishly favored the counsel of his young companions over that of the elderly men who had advised Solomon. That decision led to Israel’s ten northern tribes breaking away from its two southern tribes and forming their own kingdom. The split ended the unity the nation had enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon.
In Isaiah 3:1-5, God actually lists young people’s insolence toward the elderly as being a mark that His judgment is upon a nation. That same passage also quotes Him as saying of His judgment upon Judah, “I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.” How different this assessment is from our modern world that is constantly on the lookout for fresh young voices in politics.
In Psalm 92:12-14, the Psalmist speaks of how the true servant of God will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar tree in the courts of God. And what else will the servant do? He will continue to bear spiritual fruit even in his old age.
A similar passage is Titus 2:1-3, where the apostle Paul exhorts Titus to speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine so that the older men and the older women can be all that God wants them to be. In regards to the elderly men, that amounts to them being sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, marked by love, and marked by patience. In regards to the elderly women, that amounts to them not being irreverent, slanderous, or given to much wine. The elderly women are also encouraged to teach the younger women to love their husbands, love their children, be discreet, be chaste, be homemakers, be good, and be obedient to their husbands. Isn’t it interesting that the teaching should flow down from the elderly women rather than up from the younger women?
This goal of being a godly instructor to the younger generation was one that the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 71 understood full well. In verse 18 of that Psalm, he pleas with God not to forsake him when he is old and grayheaded until he has had time to declare God’s strength to the younger generation. How much more worthy a life goal that is than to simply retire comfortably and not be bothered with trying to help anyone.
The point in all of these passages is that the younger generations should hold the elderly in great respect. Even more than that, they should learn from them. This applies to every realm of life whether it be the church realm, the home realm, the political realm, the business realm, or any other realm. In God’s grand plan for the human race, old people are a blessing rather than a nuisance because they have the wisdom that can only be gleaned by years of living. That’s why God actually made it a national law in Israel that the younger generations should literally stand in honor anytime they found themselves in the presence of an elderly man. Am I advocating that we return to such a custom? Not necessarily, even though it wouldn’t be a bad idea. But I am advocating that we give our elderly the proper respect and attention they deserve according to God’s word. Not only will this be pleasing to God, it will also be beneficial to us.