Several months ago, on a spring Sunday morning, I visited a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Approaching the first of two double entryway doors, I looked over my shoulder to see an elderly gentleman ambling to the curb and proceeding to the door. He was dressed conservatively in a sport coat and slacks.
I held open the door, and he stepped through with a “thank you.”
Likewise, I held the second door. We walked a few steps together and then he stopped and looked me in the eye.
“These last 80 years have gone by so very fast, they’ve gone by so fast,” he said.
I gave him a look that I, too, understood that life is short. He wished me a good day and went on his way.
For the rest of the afternoon, I reflected on the older generations that had shaped my life: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and ministers. Many elderly in God’s Church can also think back on influential individuals who uniquely taught them courage, understanding, wisdom, loyalty and how to face hardships with a can-do attitude.
God intended that each generation profit from the learning experiences of those who lived previously, thereby preserving knowledge, wisdom and understanding. In fact, it is a command of God.
Notice Leviticus 19:32: “You shall rise up [stand] before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.”
The word “hoary” means grayish white. Those who are younger are to both physically and figuratively rise up (by being respectful) to those who are older, a time when most people’s hair naturally turns gray and white.
Take special note of the second half of the verse. In it, God says we are to honor older generations and fear Him. These two points are inseparable. Together, they reveal that respecting the elderly is a way to fear God.
On the flip side, the verse shows that how much you care about, pray for, and listen to those with hoary heads is an indicator of how much you fear God!
In light of this, we must buck trends in society and diligently honor older generations.
Disrespect toward the elderly has always been a fundamental problem. That is why God created a law addressing it thousands of years ago. Despite this, it is even worse in today’s impatient society, in which empathy is virtually non-existent and self-absorption is the norm.
Those of older generations have become easy targets for disdain and ridicule because they generally drive and walk more slowly, are not as savvy with technology, and are not as good at keeping up in a hustle-bustle world.
Modern society also touts a youth culture in which younger people supposedly have the keys to the future. The prevalent attitude is, “Why ask an elderly person for advice? They wouldn’t understand.”
Instead of being seen as a wonderful resource for wisdom and experience, seniors are many times viewed as barnacles dragging down society—with any interactions a supposed waste of time.
Isaiah 3:5 paints a graphic picture of this prevailing mentality: “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable.”
Because of modern trends, those living God’s Way must work hard to be different.
The command in Leviticus 19:32 is not just for the benefit of older generations. It can also provide a boon to those with fewer years.
God intended the young and elderly to form a sort of symbiotic relationship. Notice what Proverbs says about each generation’s strength: “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head” (20:29).
Those who are younger naturally have more energy and physical strength. This allows them to assist those who are starting to slow down and become physically weaker. In return, seniors are able to impart life lessons and wisdom to those who do not have as many years under their belts.
Job 12:12-13 echoes this principle: “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. With him is wisdom and strength, he has counsel and understanding.”
Seeking godly wisdom is one of the central focuses of Christianity, which makes spending time with the elderly even more important.
As with obeying parents (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3), another benefit of deferring to older generations is the blessing of having a long life. Elderly men and women can provide proper instruction and advice to ensure that those younger than them avoid destructive, emotionally driven decisions that are self-focused and short-sighted. The life experiences they have gained over decades can help prevent a young person from having to learn the hard way.
Proverbs 19:20 further emphasizes that receiving counsel from experienced individuals extends the length and quality of life: “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter end.”
The blessings we receive when we honor the elderly include gaining knowledge, wisdom, understanding, long life, honor, a good name, rewarding friendships, and favor with God. This in and of itself is amazing!
Starts with Respect
In the Old Testament, Job’s friend Elihu demonstrated a proper attitude when interacting with those older than him: “Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he” (Job 32:4).
Elihu showed respect for Job and the older men by waiting until they had all said something before opening his mouth. Being respectful of age and waiting for the appropriate moment to speak is one way of honoring the hoary head.
One guiding principle to be mindful of while interacting with the elderly is to talk less. Let them have the floor so that they can have greater opportunity to share the wisdom they have. You should generally listen intently—except to ask more questions—and soak up the information like a sponge!
When I was a boy, my aunts and uncles, along with my parents and grandparents, would gather together on Thanksgiving Day. Sitting around the table listening to the older men talk about farming, construction projects, truck driving, harnessing an electrical grid, and building homemade gadgets gave me a deeper perspective on life I would have never had otherwise.
Back then, there was no television or football games to water down these special events. It was conversation with maximum content! It was in HD all right—“heavy duty”—with detailed information on how to do jobs right and get them done no matter the obstacles. This sharing of ideas greatly benefited youth who listened and took mental notes.
By soaking in the elderly’s experience, you will better remain humble. Seeing their rich understanding of life will help you stay “small in your own eyes.”
Notice I Peter 5: “Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble” (vs. 5).
Humbling yourself in this way should start with small gestures such as standing up when an older person enters your presence. This action says, “I welcome you into my midst.”
Standing up also tells older people that you consider them valuable. It emphatically shows that you are humbling yourself. By doing this and looking them in their eyes, you are in effect saying, “I’m ready to give you my full attention.”
Message to the Elderly
A hoary head is more than just a superficial understanding of age—it is based on having merit and righteousness that exudes respectability. Every elderly person should be qualifying to build character to pass along to younger generations. This action helps make life’s struggles worthwhile.
What can be more gratifying than seeing youth be successful because you gave them the wisdom of God? This can make old age exhilarating, a delight—and not a grind!
The qualities you should cultivate as you grow older are found in Titus 2: “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience” (vs. 2).
Men, as you grow older and grayer, be an example of maturity and masculinity. Always be warm and friendly—have a sense of humor—but do not go overboard. Work to be grounded in God’s truth, selflessly give your time, and be patient with those younger than you.
Verses 3-5 are written to women as they grow older: “The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
Senior ladies, take younger women under your wings. Give them advice on how to be more feminine in dress and demeanor. Despise and discourage gossip. Pass along helpful skills such as budgeting, culinary arts, and how to defuse disagreements. Offer dating advice in accordance with the Church’s literature. Be stellar examples as wives and pillars in your congregations.
Notice the giant qualifier in Proverbs 16:31. It states: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
As you age, make certain you are “found in the way of righteousness.” Having godly character is instrumental to younger people developing an affinity for you.
Question yourself to gauge how you are doing. Do you live life with zeal? Do you walk with purpose? Are you informed? Do you have empathy for a generation cut off from wise counsel and looking to foolish peers for wisdom? Can you remember the uncertainty of youth—trying to begin a life and walk a proper path? Have you been an example of success—overcoming failures, enduring struggles, and becoming well-balanced? Have you kept yourself in good condition physically?
Your job is to pass along lessons you have learned. King David had this mindset in old age: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed Your strength unto this generation, and Your power to everyone that is to come” (Psa. 71:18).
Be friendly and positive about life, and have outgoing concern for others. These attributes will put you in a position to be honored by younger generations.
Elderly in the Church, consistently keep these points in mind and always be ready to give an answer (I Pet. 3:15) about God’s way of life.
In addition, being on your feet means you can offer them your seat if there are limited spots available.
Other small gestures you can implement for the elderly include asking if they would like something to drink, helping them carry cumbersome items, or lending an arm for support if sidewalks are slippery.
If you would like to help in bigger ways, consider shoveling snow from their driveways and sidewalks in the winter or mowing their lawns in the summer. Perhaps you could also help them trim trees or plant flowers in front of their houses. These gestures provide additional time to interact and build bonds with those of older generations.
At all times, keep your eyes peeled for ways to help. And if you wonder what other ways you can honor the elderly, ask them!
Opportunities are always available if we focus on helping others. Keep in mind that while we are to honor all of the elders in society, we must do so especially to those whom God has given a special calling (Gal. 6:10)—those of the household of faith.
We have a special, eight-day period annually to put helping the elderly into overdrive. As Church members gather at sites across the globe for the Feast of Tabernacles, the event provides endless possibilities for honoring the hoary head.
You may have an elderly person in your area who needs a ride to the meeting site. Once you arrive, look out for those who may need assistance getting settled. Volunteer to carry bulky luggage to a person’s room. During this time, you may get to know his or her name, Church area, maybe some of their health issues (that you can later pray about), and insight into their interests.
But do not stop there! The next morning might be a good time to get the person a Starbucks latte or make an offer to meet in the cafe for a treat. As time progresses, you can naturally ask about weightier issues and how they learned God’s truth.
Take special note of elderly people sitting by themselves before services. They may have difficulty walking or standing and must sit down. Walk over and introduce yourself. Ask if you can sit with them. Learn about them—learn from them.
Over the course of the Feast, maintain contact with them. For an added flourish, go to the florist and buy them a corsage. Make their day!
If your financial resources permit, take out several widows or widowers for dinner. Fellowship will be lively and you will understand a great deal more about the love of God as well as the concept, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Another idea is to write a handwritten note wishing someone a cheery, upbeat Feast. This certainly has the potential to bring a sparkle to the eyes of a person who came to the Feast by himself. Making elderly people feel special—because they are—is a great gift that can ease the hardship of physical and mental trials that many hoary heads face.
In addition, do not forget those unable to attend the Feast due to illness. Ask your minister if he knows of anyone like this and send them personalized cards that show you are thinking of and praying for them.
Strive to add “spark” to the lives of energy-diminished older persons. Let the Holy Spirit lead and prompt you to serve them. Ask God to help you make a difference in their lives. In the end, you will find that you actually benefit the most.
Expand Your Thinking
Proverbs 4 states the crucial importance of gaining wisdom: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote you: she shall bring you to honor, when you embrace her. She shall give to your head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to you” (vs. 7-9).
By seeking wisdom—older generations are a perfect source—you can receive a crown of glory when Christ returns (I Pet. 5:4).
In this physical life, however, God created another crown of glory: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Prov. 16:31). For those living God’s Way, white hair was designed to indicate the special rank of a righteous elderly person.
It is interesting to note that a hoary head mirrors God’s appearance. Both Jesus and the Father are called the “Ancient of Days,” and Christ is pictured as having white hair (Rev. 1:14).
Given this, how much more should we honor the elderly!
Strive to give deference to those with hoary heads so that you can gain wisdom and righteousness—en route to having a grayish-white crown of glory of your own in this life. Ply them for stories. Serve them. Ask for their advice.
Doing so will help guarantee you properly fear God now and receive a kingly crown of glory in the world to come.