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We live in a time when, in a number of countries, it is no longer uncommon for people to live into their eighties. I’ve had several relatives who lived into their early nineties. Of course, before the Flood there were many who lived beyond the age of 900. As time went by, in this post-Flood world of ours, life spans decreased dramatically. Both David and Solomon lived to be just 70. And for long periods of time in history the average life expectancy was in the 40’s and 50’s. For instance, the great writer William Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday. These days we are astounded when someone dies at that age, but in 1616, the year that he died, that was common. Even today, in the poorest and most underdeveloped countries, lifespans are still about what they were several centuries ago. With all this in mind, how were the elders in society treated over the course of time?


That has varied depending on the society. Since this is a blog and not a sociological study we are not going to get into all the details about that. We know, however, that in certain regions, such as the Middle East, the elders in a society have been held in high esteem. The Bible itself demonstrates this, given the fact that it centers on that part of the world, particularly upon Israel. This does not make the Word of God limited or shortsighted. Rather, the slices of life it chronicles upon its pages are a model for all of us to look to, including the treatment of those who are elders, as we can see in these verses:


Leviticus 19:32:  “ ‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.’ ”


Proverbs 20:29:  The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head.


When we were young we exulted in our physical prowess, particularly us men. I can remember the pride I felt when I bench-pressed nearly 300 pounds and when I first reached 5 miles, and later ten and then 11 miles, when jogging. Time and aging have taken all that away. Various old, chronic injuries and arthritis remind me of my mortality. However, long after the physical peak has been passed, there is still mental ability present in those who are older. Many of those who have lived to be older or elderly have accumulated wisdom in all the time they have lived upon this earth. They have a lot to offer to those who are younger. There should be a level of respect given to them anyway. They made it to their later years. There are those even in this era of longevity who, for various reasons, do not live as long. The older and the elderly among us have weathered life’s storms and are still standing. They have achieved goals and have shown those in successive generations that life can be lived and success had in spite of all that this world can throw at people. As you will now see, though, respect for elders does not stop at those who are advanced in age. This concept also applies to children respecting their parents, as these passages demonstrate:


Exodus 20:12:  “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”


Ephesians 6:1-3:  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”


Respect for elders, ideally, begins in the home. From the beginning, God has intended the family to be the basic building block of any society, marriage between one man and one woman to be the cornerstone of that foundation (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:21-24). This is also why divorce is strongly discouraged and the circumstances of its permissibility so closely proscribed (Matthew 19:3-9). Without a good foundation in life, most ideally a godly and stable home, people emerge in adulthood as broken, misguided, unstable individuals. Even those who overcome the strictures of a broken home may live their entire lives without coming to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. People who grow up in broken or dysfunctional homes have a much higher chance of becoming homosexual, going to prison, or abusing alcohol and other substances. Their respect for authority is seriously curtailed if it even exists at all. Without respect for elders it is hard or impossible to have genuine respect for authority, something God expects us to have. This includes respect for those in church leadership as well as respect for those in government:


Romans 13:1-2:  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.


1 Timothy 5:17:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.


Do you now see how far respect for elders goes when it begins in the home like it is supposed to?      Such respect builds into us the capacity to care for those who are older and elderly. We, in turn, learn valuable wisdom for life from such upbringing as well. Consider these words also:


Proverbs 22:6:  Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.


Proverbs 13:24:  He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.


A good, solid upbringing, complete with godly instruction and loving but firm discipline, is essential in building into someone the proper respect for elders and, by extension, authority. Do we blindly obey all authority all the time? No. There is a time for civil disobedience and that includes when the laws of the land direct us to do things which are against the Word of God. Does a good upbringing automatically guarantee that a child will grow into a law-abiding adult? No. Some persons go bad no matter what good is done for them. Are all older and elderly people automatically wise? Absolutely not. We have all known of those who are old but foolish. Overall, though, the idea is to respect elders and authority.


Today we are reaping the crop of rebellion, the seeds having been sown years ago. Divorce has been common for a long time now. Many fewer people are either not Christians or, if they claim to be, are nominal Christians at best. More and more couples are living together rather than committing to marriage. There are increasing numbers of couples practicing alternative lifestyles out there. Government has overtly intruded into the home, making it almost impossible to discipline one’s children without getting into trouble for child abuse. For a while now we have had “time out” instead of the paddle or the belt. And what do we see now? Elderly people being openly disrespected, people running the streets and looting, burning, robbing, and killing, children who are practically uncontrollable, and so on. This is a long way from how God intended us to live our lives.


Perhaps you are one of those who have been rebellious. It is not impossible to learn respect, especially if you have been born again. Learn to deal with the older and with the elderly in a much more positive and respectful manner. Listen to what they have to say. Be patient with them in their physical infirmities. These changes can lead you to have respect for parents also. You do not have to accept abuse in order to respect a parent. A bad parent needs help or even punishment, but the role he or she occupies still deserves respect. In all of this remember that if you are not in your fifties or older yet, you will be someday if you live long enough. How would you like it if folks pushed you around because you are old and frail? Would you enjoy it if someone laughed off your advice when you know you are right and they are wrong? How would you feel if someone made fun of you as you attempted to use a walker? You know you would not like any of this. Put yourselves in their place for a minute and think of how they have to live, knowing that is going to be you someday.


The way a society treats its elderly says a lot about it. It is not pleasant to think about how they are treated as disposable people, as nuisances who need to die so they can be out of the way of more progressive, younger people. It is obvious that youth and strength are prized while most of the airtime devoted to elders is for the insurance plans and medicine they can receive. Even so, let us as Christians treat elders with respect. That goes for parents and other leaders as well as older, more experienced people. From the womb to the grave, life is precious. We should certainly treasure our elders. After all, as we have seen, it is in the Bible. It is God’s will for us to do so. And one final word: All this learning how to respect elders (including parents) and authority ultimately teaches us to have a holy, reverential attitude towards God. He is our Lord, Savior, Father, and King, and is worthy of all respect and obedience.


James 4:10: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.


John 14:15:  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.


Psalm 103:13:           As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him.



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