With Old Age Comes Wisdom | Elderly People Have Much to Offer
Summary: Ancient Israel's 12 tribes split into two competing factions — Israel in the north and Judah in the south. This rancorous rupture of a once-united nation occurred for one simple, primary reason: the new king listened to the bad advice of his youthful companions and rejected the sound counsel of the older men of Israel.
When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king over Israel (1 Kings 11:42-12:20). Initially he ruled over all 12 tribes. But early in his reign, the people of Israel requested that Rehoboam not repeat the harsh rulership of his father, the late King Solomon. So the new king asked for some time to consult with two groups of advisors: (1) the elders who had served his father Solomon, and (2) the young men who had grown up with Rehoboam.
The elders, men who had learned much wisdom over a long life, encouraged the new king to hear the people, to grant their request, and to serve them graciously as their king. But to his hurt Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men (12:13) and accepted the disastrous advice of his younger companions, who said to tell the people, “My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (12:14).
The result of his embracing the younger men’s rash counsel and rejecting the advice of the proven, older men was the rebellion of the ten northern tribes. They made Jereboam their king instead, leaving King Rehoboam with only the tribe of Judah (12:16-20). I quote this piece of bible history to demonstrate the importance of paying proper attention and respect to what I call the wisdom of the "olders.” Let’s go see some important illustrations of this in the bible.
Proverbs 12:15 The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.
Proverbs 13:10 …wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Proverbs 20:18, GNT Get good advice and you will succeed; don't go charging into battle without a plan.
• A wise man or woman is one who listens to advice. This is in contrast to a fool, who looks to himself as the source of wisdom.
• But it’s not just advice that we need. Rehoboam got advice from his young companions, but it was wrong advice! It led to catastrophe for the king. So remember, it’s not just counsel, but good counsel that we need from others. And the Scriptures give a number of illustrations where that good counsel is likely to be drawn out of the older men and women, who have lived a long life and learned many valuable lessons. And by “older”, I mean those significantly older than the one seeking advice.
Leviticus 19:32 Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.
KJV: …honor the face of the old man.
• I was raised in the 1940s and 1950s. My parents taught us to honor and respect our elders. And they modeled that before us. I will never forget how my Dad and Mom honored “Nana” and “Gramps” (my Dad’s parents), and how they likewise honored our widowed “Grammie”, my Mom’s mother, who lived with us for 30 years. My Dad had a Master's degree from an Ivy League university. Yet he showed unwavering respect and deference towards his father, who had only about six years of schooling before leaving Ireland for the USA as a young man. And Dad never, may I add, called his father by the disrespectul title "the old man."
• One way we “honor” old people is to seek them out and ask them to share their wisdom concerning whatever issue we might be facing. I recall when I was a single, young lieutenant in the Air Force. I was going through some discouragement in a relationship I was pursuing (which, may I add, ended up in a happy, 38-year marriage). Not knowing which way to turn, I approached my squadron commander, a wise, experienced lieutenant colonel, and asked him for some counsel. To this day I recall his fatherly response. He closed his office door, pulled up a chair near mine, heard me out at length, and then gave me some counsel that proved to be very wise. I took his advice, and the situation worked out well, as he had predicted.
Proverbs 16:31, KJV The hoary head (NIV: gray hair) is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.
• I’m not suggesting that just any older person is automatically a good source of godly advice. You and I both know that is not the case. The old saying "With age comes wisdom" is not universally true, but it is true in most cases. Like a percentage of the adults of any age, some old people are criminals, some are drunkards, some are foolish in their life choices, some show very little wisdom.
• A life lived “in the way of righteousness” is a foundation for wisdom. On various occasions over the past 40-plus years since I was born again in 1969, I have needed counsel. Time and again I turned to men older than I was. But they were not just older; they had also lived upright, godly lives for many decades. These were mature believers who had “exercised themselves unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). Seek counsel from older men and women of God who have a proven track record, who have lived for God victoriously over the long haul.
• Once in the 1970s, when I was a younger minister, I came up with the idea of going forth from our home church to plant a new church in another state. I went across the hall from my office to seek the counsel of an older minister on the church staff. I had told him nothing about why I was in his office. Before I could say anything about my thoughts, this older man shocked me with these words, “Don’t be in a hurry to go anywhere!” He was a man very sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. That, combined with the wisdom of years, immediately convinced me to drop those plans to go out church planting! To this day I thank God for that righteous-living “hoary head” speaking God’s wisdom to me.
Proverbs 6:20-23 My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.
• The first place to look for the wisdom of the elders is with Dad and Mom. I was blessed to be raised by God-fearing parents. Not all have that privilege, I realize. But that is still God’s ideal plan for instilling wisdom in young children. That is, they are to receive godly, bible-based teaching and life lessons from their parents.
• I encourage all fathers and mothers who may be reading this and who still have children at home, devote yourself to imparting God’s truths and God’s wisdom to your children. Don’t leave it to the school, to their peers, or to other outside influences. You “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV).
• And it’s important to remember that the wisdom that Dad and Mom have accumulated over the years does not abandon them in their old age just because they've become seniors. In fact, we are encouraged: “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). I have found it very profitable listening to the life experiences of the elderly. Their wisdom doesn’t evaporate “when [they are] old”!
1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat … older women as mothers…
• Bible scholars generally agree that the apostle Paul was writing to young Timothy (4:12) in his role as pastor of a church, most likely in Ephesus. Paul exhorts the young minister to treat the older saints with kindness and high regard, treating the older men as fathers and the older women as mothers.
• This scenario — a young pastor in a mixed-age congregation that includes senior men and women — is actually quite similar to our opening story. The new, young King Rehoboam lost most of his “congregation” (the ten northern tribes) by listening to his youthful companions and announcing harsh measures. By contrast, the older advisors had counseled the king to treat the Israelites with kindness and an attitude of service to them. It’s the same in church leadership, in government, or in the business world. Younger men and women may be placed in positions of authority even over those older than them. Should they lead? Yes. But they should do it with deference to and respect for the accumulated “wisdom of the years” to be found among their older co-workers or fellow church members.
• In 1967 I was a brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. My commander, a full colonel, gave me an assignment to accomplish. Not knowing where even to begin, I slipped across the hall to the office of an old veteran of the military, Chief Master Sergeant Moore. I said to him, “Sergeant Moore, the colonel gave me this assignment to do ... [pause] What do I do?” From that day on, he and I had a great relationship. Even though, technically, I outranked him, I treated that older man with the utmost respect and sought from him the wisdom that his years of service had given him.
Titus 2:3-5 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge [KJV: teach] the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
• In this final example, we see a need in the church — younger women, in many cases recently married and beginning to raise their new families. Where should they turn for advice on being good wives, mothers, homemakers, and Christians? The answer is: to the “older women”, who have learned much by being good wives and successfully raising children over a long period of time.
• How old is an “older” woman? Well, I’ve learned a few things over the course of my 70 years, and one of those is not to tell a woman at what age she becomes “older”! But joking aside, an “older” woman in this context doesn’t need to be, say, my age (70). No, she could be 40 and be counseling and teaching a young mother of age 20. That would certainly qualify her on all counts as relatively older and in possession of much experiential wisdom from having raised her own family, managed a successful home, and enjoyed a good marriage.
Avoid the error of King Rehoboam, who accepted the counsel of his young companions who were inexperienced in leadership. It seems that they responded out of passion and immaturity. But the wisdom the new, young king needed was that given by the elders, the older, mature men who had much experience and accumulated wisdom. As an old man myself, my heartfelt encouragement to you is to seek out and give a listening ear to the wisdom of elderly people. Your life will be better for it.