The New Testament assembly was designed by God to operate like a family. In early times, this closeness would have been fostered by the persecution which they faced, as well as by their practice of “gathering together” in local homes. In that time period for all but the rich, furniture was minimal, so it was likely that in some assemblies the believers sat on stools or on the floor. Some records indicate that many of the homes of the poor were one room, two story dwellings, with the animals on the first floor and the people living upstairs. Imagine meeting under those conditions. There would be little formality, with prayers going up over the crows of the roosters.
A Great Privilege
All assemblies are unique in personality, character, and makeup, and are comprised of believers of a variety of ages and backgrounds. In order to function as God intends, respect is essential.
Many older, godly believers have been true shepherds in my life; for this I am very thankful to God. They cared for my spiritual growth and realized that testimony for God would soon be placed into the hands of a rising generation. We need to cultivate and express our love and respect for older believers. Those who have weathered past storms and have born the weight of testimony for years are worthy of honor.
A Solemn Responsibility
In the Scriptures, Paul instructs Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1Tim 5:1-2 ESV) This reveals that God desires assembly believers to interact as family.
It is interesting to learn that the younger ones are told to “encourage” the older saints. Often I have been encouraged by older believers, but this passage indicates that God desires us to be encouragers to the older ones. Why would the elderly need to be encouraged? With age comes physical restrictions and the inability to accomplish all that they once did. They need to know they are valued, not just for their works’ sake, but because of who they are in Christ. These older believers are also interested in the perpetuation of godly testimony and they need to be assured that younger believers are committed to their Lord and to building up His assembly. They need to see God’s work being carried out by a rising generation.
These verses in Timothy remind us that the Old Testament commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” is still applicable to us today, and it carries over into assembly life. This is how God expects the young to relate to the older assembly believers.
Consider Romans 12:10: “Outdo one another in showing honor” (ESV). This word honor means, “a valuing by which the price is fixed; a true estimation of someone’s worth.” This is valuing people as God values them. It is seeing others through God’s eyes. You’re not looking at all the failures, the inadequacies, the past sins, but rather, in Christ, you see them as forgiven, as purchased, as righteous; you view them as precious. It is based, not on ability and performance, but on a person’s identity in Christ.
A Unique Challenge
A good question for all of us to ask is, “Do our older Christians feel honored and respected by us?” It starts with our attitude toward them and is expressed in our actions. We can honor them by expressing appreciation for their character traits and showing interest in their personal problems. Just taking the time to listen patiently to others is so important, but God wants us to honor others with our actions as well. “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need” (Titus 3:14 ESV). Elderly believers may appreciate help with household chores such as lawn mowing, shoveling their driveways/steps, etc. Or, they may enjoy having some fresh-baked cookies or groceries brought to them. Seek for ways to help.
Submitting to godly counsel is another way to show honor. Ask older believers questions and give them the opportunity to share their experiences with you and to give you advice. If you do this, you will be following the good example of Apollos in Acts 18:26 when he willingly learned from Priscilla and Aquila. When you start asking questions of older believers and get to know them more, even if you don’t get help in the current situation, you will be blessed.
A Word for Older Christians
For any older person reading this, please remember that there is a dual responsibility in this relationship. With every rising generation there are changes and gaps between old methods and new possibilities. Older believers have a wealth of experience with which to keep the communication lines open with younger believers and seek to encourage them. Be patient with their new suggestions and ideas; just because something is old and it’s what we’re used to, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. God’s truth remains constant and we do not change what He has ordained, but in the area of traditions which are from men and personal value choices, we need to be flexible. It is a beautiful thing to see the young, with their energy and enthusiasm, working together with the older ones, with their wisdom which they have gained through many years of faithful service to God. We need to learn to work together and not allow issues to divide us, but rather let them increase our dependence upon God and teach us how to interact with others in a way that builds up God’s assembly and promotes harmonious relationships. In all of this, our ultimate goal is honoring Christ through our treatment of His people, so that He will be glorified and assembly testimony may be carried on with vibrancy until He returns.