The Bible has quite a bit to say about old people, and like every other Bible subject, we would do well to listen to what it says about this subject.
Adam, the first man on earth, lived to the ripe old age of 930 (Genesis 5:5). Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, the oldest person named in the Bible (Genesis 5:27). Abraham, who became the ancestral head of the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews, was 75 years old when God called him to leave his native land and migrate to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-4). He was 100 years old when his first child, Isaac, was born, and his wife Sarah was 90 years old (Genesis 17:17). From Isaac’s son Jacob the great nation of Israel arose.
After his terrible ordeal, Job lived another 140 years, started a new family, saw his children and grandchildren for four generations, and at last died “old and full of years” (Job 42:16-17). Moses was 80 years old (well beyond today’s retirement age) when God called him to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The great work of his life was achieved between the age of 80 and his death at the age of 120. “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor abated” (Deuteronomy 34:7). What an amazing man!
Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both well advanced in years” when John the Baptist was born to them (Luke 1:7). But what marvelous parents they proved to be! Jesus’ evaluation of John’s life was that “among those born of women, there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
Through Moses, God commanded: “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). The apostle Paul counseled: “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father” (I Timothy 5:1). Solomon wrote: “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). David declared: “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). The aged David knew some things about the care and providence of God that younger people needed to hear, and old people today know some things about God that younger folks need to hear.
Though not old by some standards, Paul referred to himself as “the aged” (Philemon 9). He had endured much physical abuse for the cause of Christ and his body apparently suffered the results of such (Cf. II Corinthians 6:4-10; II Corinthians 11:23-27). Paul exhorted older men to conduct themselves in such a way as to be an example to the younger (Titus 2:1-2). He wrote that older women are to be examples to younger women and are to teach the younger women things that the younger can only learn from the older (Titus 2:3-5). The apostle John wrote to “little children,” “fathers,” and “young men.” (I John 2:12-14). In context, these seem to indicate people in different stages of spiritual maturity, with the “fathers” representing the older men who John said “have known Him (the Lord) from the beginning.”
Old age has its downside. The aging of the body brings on aches and pains. Old people may emit some grunts and groans from time to time. Pain does that to a person. Just as surgery on a younger person causes pain, resulting in some groaning on their part, so the pains of aging may emit some occasional groans from old people. Old age can also affect one’s mental state, resulting in one not having the mental acuity once possessed. Impaired hearing, impaired sight, loss of agility and mobility are all a part of the aging process (read Ecclesiastes 12 for a poetic and graphic picture of the process). A degree of mental rigidity and inflexibility may set in with older people. Keep in mind that they have lived a long time and have become “set in their ways.” Bear in mind that their ways may not always be bad. Their ways may reflect wisdom and devotion to God and His word. They may show little tolerance for what they consider foolishness and folly. They do not like it when they go to Kroger or Walmart or Lowe’s and the entire store has been totally rearranged so that nothing is in its familiar place! They are not happy when they go to their favorite restaurant only to find that their favorite entrees have been discontinued and the new items have a “jacked up” price! (Attention: Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, Logan’s Roadhouse, et al).
Old people want to maintain their independence as long as possible. Be patient with them. Be kind to them. If you live long enough you will get old and experience in your own life what they are now experiencing in theirs. The Psalmist wrote: “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). I can vouch for the fact that 80 years of age can get here in a hurry – “before you know it” as we often say!
The late great Bible scholar and preacher, Jack P. Lewis (who died at the age of 99 [1919-2018]), once preached a sermon at the White Station Church of Christ in Memphis, TN titled “Old People.” As he began that sermon, so we will end this essay. Dr. Lewis said: “In the movie ‘The Longest Day,’ the American officer on the beach of Normandy stimulated the soldiers into action by saying, ‘There are only two sorts of people on this beach: Those who are dead, and those who are going to be.’ There are only two sorts of people here today: Those who are old, and those who are going to be. So I have no reluctance to talk to old people” (And So We Speak: Sermon from Five Decades, Volume II, Hester Publications, Henderson, TN , p. 309).
Let us be respectful of old people. Let us be willing to “cut them some slack” when they do not act or respond exactly as those younger might think they should. One day, when you are old, you perhaps will understand it better.
October 13, 2020