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The Benefits of Age

It's not all Downhill!

Old Indian woman

by Dennis Pollock

When it comes to youth vs age, one might suppose that all the advantages go to the young. The young look prettier, run faster, have more energy, are more eager to plunge into new projects, and seem to have more fun. But there is another side to this. Both the Bible and a little bit of observation reveal that there is something to be said for those who have experienced more than a few birthdays. I have to admit that I may be a bit biased in this regard, having said good-bye to middle age by this point. Still I do have evidence for comparison, as I consider the Dennis of my youth, as opposed to the Dennis I am today.

Usually we think of spiritual growth in terms of the fruit of the Spirit: patience, kindness, love, and so forth. But there should also be growth and improvement in our attitudes. As I look back over forty years to my first days and years in Christ, I find that in a lot of ways I am a mellower version of me than I was so long ago. First, I am less hasty to tell others what they should do in the major decisions of their lives. In my own life, I have been wrong enough times, and made enough mistakes that it now seems presumptuous of me to try to pressure others to follow a certain course. In matters which the Bible condemns I am not reticent to share what the Word says. But there are many, many decisions that are neither morally right or wrong, and I have learned to allow friends and family members to make their own decisions, and if need be, their own mistakes.

In a similar fashion, I am not nearly as quick to declare that I have heard the word of the Lord for myself when faced with various crossroads. I am far more likely to say “I think this is what the Lord may be saying” these days. In my younger years I would have said, “God has told me that I must…” The reasons for this change are pretty simple. I have had more than a few occasions when I thought I knew the mind of God, and circumstances later proved that I decidedly did not. My mistakes have not stopped me from listening for the voice of God, and doing my best to follow it. But I generally allow time and circumstances to confirm that the voice I am hearing really is that of the Lord.

In my early days, I was pretty judgmental when it came to churches. I saw most churches as “dead” and had little use for them and not much respect for those who attended them. But over the years I have learned that you can find amazing believers in some of the more formal churches, and some pretty immature Christians in those churches which have the liveliest worship. As I look back on some of my earlier attitudes and my tendency to be too judgmental and legalistic, I have to admit I wasn’t an altogether winsome representative of Christ. Not that I have it all figured out today, but I believe I have made progress in some areas. Praise God for that!

Rehoboam’s Crossroads

In the Bible we have a couple of clear examples where age demonstrated superior wisdom over youth. The first one we’ll consider has to do with the transition between the reign of King Solomon and his son Rehoboam. The David/Solomon administrations represented a golden age for Israel. In David’s day, wars were common and Israel often had to fight for its very existence. But with David at the helm, and with God recognizing him as a a man after His own heart, Israel rarely lost and the nation grew in territory and prospered. By the time David passed off the scene and Solomon reigned in his father’s stead, Israel was in a more secure place. The years of Solomon were primarily a time of peace and abundance. Israel had consolidated her gains under David, and now enjoyed decades of calm prosperity.

The biggest negative, as far as the average Israeli was concerned, was that Solomon demanded a lot from his people. He lived well and he lived big, and in order to pay for his lavish lifestyle, he asked the people of Israel to contribute heavily and regularly. Taxes were high, and there was nothing the average Jew could do about it. Finally, Solomon died, and his son Rehoboam reigned in his place. After suffering years of paying for Solomon’s excesses, a large delegation of Jews came to Rehoboam and demanded relief from the heavy taxes that had been a source of frustration for them for so long.

A leader named Jeroboam managed to organize a huge assembly to confront the new king about lessening their tax load. In a sort of a protest demonstration, they gathered in such numbers that King Rehoboam was forced to hear them out. They aired their grievances before the king, saying: “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4).

This was a major challenge for the new king. He asked for three days’ time, in order to consult with men he respected and come up with a reply. First Rehoboam consulted with the “elders,” the aged men who had served as counselors for his father, King Solomon. “How do you advise for me to answer these people?” he asked. They told him, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” The king would have been a smart man to take their advice, and seek no other counsel. But there was something in him that apparently chafed at the idea of compromising with these common folks, and taking even one step backward from the authority which Solomon had wielded all those years of his reign.

Counsel of the Young Men

Rehoboam made a big mistake. He went to another group and asked their opinion. These men were his buddies, young men who had grown up with him and had little experience with leadership, and little desire for compromise. When he asked what they thought, they told him:

Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’–thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!’ ”

That kind of language would surely put these rebellious whiners in their place!

The king, a young man himself, rejected the counsel of the old men – what do they know, anyway! He liked the idea of being tough and uncompromising – it seemed so kingly! And so, he told the people exactly what his buddies had suggested. His rule and his demands would be even tougher than his father’s – and they had better get used to it!

This was not a democracy. There were no voting polls, or opportunities to replace the current leader with another in the next four years. But when people cannot vote with ballots, they often vote with their feet. And that is exactly what the majority of the Israelites did. They stormed out of the meeting with the king, saying, ““What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” Israel became a divided nation. The majority of the Israelites formed a separate nation, making Jeroboam their king. And from that point until the Babylonian captivity, the people of Israel were a divided kingdom. Rehoboam was left with only two of the tribes of the Jews, while Jeroboam inherited all the others.

It is interesting that it was the young men who were so forceful and harsh in their rejection of the people’s request for the lightening of their tax load. In this case the old guys had it exactly right. They told Rehoboam to consider himself as their servant, and speak kindly to them. Had Rehoboam done this, Israel would never have divided. “Serve them,” they said, “and these people will be your servants.” The Bible says, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding” (Job 12:12).

“Starting with the Older Ones…”

woman caught in adultery

There are of course, some exceptions to this. You can always find some old men who are pretty foolish, and there are some young men and ladies who show amazing perception and insight. As a matter of fact, our Lord Jesus was thirty years old when He began His ministry and thirty-three when He concluded the earthly part of it – hardly an old man. Still in most cases young people tend to overreact more than older folks. I suppose part of this is simply a matter of maturation, and perhaps even the result of our mental faculties changing with age. But I am convinced that another part of the reason for young people’s tendencies to rush in where angels and older people fear to tread is that they simply haven’t had enough bumps and bruises in life to cause them to give second and third thoughts to risky and foolish behavior.

Also, young people often don’t know themselves quite as well as older ones do. When Jesus was asked about stoning the woman caught in adultery, he told them that whoever was without sin should throw the first stone. This arrow found its mark, and the people began melting away. But who was it that were the first to leave? It was the old folks. The Bible says, “Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9). Why were the old ones the first? Probably because old people typically have experienced enough failures in their lives that they are more keenly aware of their own faults and flaws.

Please don’t think that this is a knock upon the young. I praise God for young people, and for their enthusiasm and irrepressible zeal. Both our early and later seasons of life have their blessings, and the old and the young alike can be a huge benefit to the church of Jesus Christ. But I do think that sometimes churches and organizations miss out when they pack their boards and their staffs with men and women in their twenties through their forties, and have no interest in those who are on the downhill side of fifty. The eagerness of youth needs to be balanced with the wisdom of age. The beauty of youth must be complemented by the insights and perceptions of those men and women who have been around for a while, and have the scars and the wrinkles to prove it.

Privates and Generals

In most wars, the majority of the fighting is done by young men. During World War II the average soldier was around nineteen years old. These young men were in incredible shape. They could march for miles, do without sleep for days, and bounce back from defeat with amazing resilience. But the men who led them were not young. They were usually pot-bellied old guys who couldn’t have run a mile to save their lives. They stayed, not in foxholes, but behind desks, where they planned and strategized, and mapped out the war which the young men would have to fight.

We needed them both. Without the young men, the war would surely have been lost. And without the old guys leading the young soldiers, the war would surely have been lost. So it is in the body of Christ. There is need in the army and in the family of God for both the young and the old, for the teens and for those who carry memories of a life and a time which has long ago faded from the world. Christ, our Master and our great General, possesses the best of both youth and age. In His zeal and enthusiasm for God’s kingdom, He is perpetually young. In His wisdom and insight, He carries the age of eternity. And as we receive Him by faith and follow Him, we shall be useful in our youth, when not the slightest wrinkle mars our face, and in our old age, when our faces are filled with valleys and crevices, and our hearts are filled with wisdom gained from walking with Jesus over the years.


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