By Donald L. Norbie
Mrs. Jean Erikson, a famous psychologist and author, is now quite elderly. She was
interviewed recently concerning a book she had written on aging and wisdom.
She was questioned: Can one become wise before he is old? She answered unhesitatingly,
“No.” One must have lived life and experienced all of the stages and cycles of
life before one can become truly wise. One can be very knowledgeable in his field while
young but he cannot be wise as to the significance and application of knowledge until he
Now what Mrs. Erikson says about wisdom surely accords with Scripture. Age according to
Scripture is to be respected.
“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of
righteousness.” (Prov. 16:31, NKJV)
To come to old age without a moral and spiritual breakdown, to finish the race of life
well, is to be triumphant. It is like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Youth may have
lofty goals and aspirations but time will test character and perseverance. The end of the
battle will show the strength of the man.
“The glory of young men is their strength,
And the splendor of old men is their gray head. (Prov. 20:29)
God early commanded respect for age: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor
the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32). To
dishonor age is to dishonor God. In the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12) children are urged to honor
their parents. They are warned not to despise them in old age when their strength is
“Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is
old.” (Prov. 23:22)
Elders were appointed to share with Moses in the leadership of Israel. They were to be
‘wise and knowledgeable men” (Deut. 1: 15). This pattern prevailed throughout
Israel’s history. Leadership was to be by wise, older men.
When Rehoboam needed advice he turned to the elders for help. They counseled gentleness
and moderation in dealing with the restlessness of the northern tribes. However, “he
rejected the counsel which the elders gave him and consulted the young men” (I Kings
12:8). He followed the hard line that the young men advised and divided the kingdom.
All old men are not wise but wise men are usually older. Because of this Elihu said,
“Age should speak and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:7).
Rehoboam was a fool to do what he did. He refused to listen to wisdom.
Older men and women may need exhortation at times by younger men and women, but it is
always to be given with gentleness and respect. Paul cautioned Timothy, “Do not
rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father” (I Tim. 5: 1). Surely this would be
with gentleness and love.
The synagogues had been led by elders and, as churches were formed, they also were led by
elders. When an offering was taken in Antioch for the needy Christians in Jerusalem, it
was sent by the hands of Paul and Barnabas ‘to the elders” (Acts 11:30). These were
the spiritual leaders in the churches.
When Paul and Barnabas evangelized and established churches in what is called Turkey
today, they “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Under the guidance
of the Holy Spirit a plurality of wise, older men were appointed to lead, rather than one
man as the “pastor”.
Paul later spelled out the qualifications for such leadership in I Timothy 3:1-7. The
elder is to have high moral standards, competence in leading his own family and a good
knowledge of God’s Word. God’s people desperately need such leaders today.
In the world, euthanasia for the elderly is being currently discussed. The old are often
viewed as a human junk yard needing to be cleaned out. God would say to His people that
they should value the elderly for their age, experience and wisdom. Allow them to be
active and useful as long as they have strength and clear minds. They are tremendously
valuable in an assembly of believers.
When their strength is failing and their minds begin to be forgetful, love and cherish
them. Handle them gently and lovingly as one would a fragile antique, fragrant with
memories of a useful life, beautiful in old age. To do otherwise is to despise the image