“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32, NIV).
I am the product of a bygone era, of a time when people showed both public and private respect for their elders (their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, fellow Christians, indeed, anyone who was greater in age or seniority), even if these elders didn’t always do or say the “right” things. This demonstrated respect went beyond just standing up when one’s elder entered a room; or answering elders’ yes and no questions with a “yes sir, nor sir; yes ma’am, no ma’am”; or using sir and ma’am as a form of polite respect when addressing an elderly man or woman: for example, May I help you, sir? Is that all you need, ma’am? Indeed, the respect expressed to the elders back in my day also included showing them one’s heartfelt gratitude, spending time with them (attentively and politely listening to them), volunteering to help them, and interacting with them whenever the opportunities presented themselves.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was developing from a child to an adult, my elders were the older members of my immediate family, of my public schools, of my neighborhoods, and of my local church, as well as members of the general public. Moreover, the children in my day were taught that respect for their elders, as well as respect for every human being, including respect for one’s own self, began with making the “right” choices about what was the “right” way to meet, greet, and talk to others. Where elders were concerned, the ONLY choice children could make was to meet, greet, and talk to their elders with the utmost respect, because, by virtue of their elders’ longevity, wisdom, life experiences, and integrity, these elders had earned the right to be treated with much respect.
Unfortunately, the four most disrespectful behaviors today that were virtually unheard of in my bygone era are: children questioning their parents’ authority, or the authority of any person who took care of them, or taught them, or gave them advice, or steered them in the right direction; children either raising their voices, or talking back to, or speaking impolitely in other ways to their elders; people refusing to listen to and/or follow the advice that their elders gave to them; and people physically and psychologically abusing their elders, or doing harm to them in other ways, like neglecting to care for the elders who are unable to care for themselves. In fact, it would seem that the old proverb about training “…a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NIV), has lost its truth. For sure, if the people who are now in their twenties, thirties, and forties were ever taught how to respect their elders, then why do so many of them appear to have misplaced their childhood “training?”
Furthermore, the closer I get to sixty (two years and 20 days away), the more I see firsthand how today’s elders are disrespected. This truth is even sadder when, for example, it is American Christians who are guilty of disrespecting their elders. I cannot begin to tell you of the number of times since I entered into my fifties that I personally have had my authority questioned by younger Christians; have been yelled at by younger Christians; have been spoken to abusively, impudently, sarcastically, or condescendingly by younger Christians; have been tuned out (given the talk-to-the-hand gesture) by younger Christians; and have been told by younger Christians that they were not going to follow any of my advice. Of course, there are so many other ways that I have been disrespected, and many of these ways include some appalling acts of deep-seated hostilities that have been waged against me because I am a woman preacher, or a charismatic Christian, or a person of color, or a person over fifty, or a graduate from non-prestigious universities, and the list of reasons for their disrespect continues.
Now, for the record, I am not saying that people should show respect for their elders by blindly accepting whatever these elders present as being the truth, or the “only” way. Certainly, if their elders’ truth contradicts or compromises the Word of God, or if their elders’ “only” way isn’t about the eternal life with God as secured through Christ, then it is individuals’ responsibility to cling to what they know to be the absolute divine truth and the definitive “only” way. For sure, God gave humans their own minds so that they can think for themselves. Still, regardless of their differing opinions and differing levels of wisdom and knowledge, younger Christians, indeed, all younger individuals, shouldn’t publicly or privately rebuke or intentionally humiliate their elders, NOT even if their elders have publicly or privately admonished or intentionally embarrassed them. There are many kinder and gentler ways of disagreeing with elders, and yet none of those ways involves talking back to them, yelling at them, cursing them, calling them names, accusing them, demeaning them, hitting them, and so forth.
The Holy Bible makes it clear that Christians, especially, should show their “…fear of God by standing up in the presence of elderly people and showing respect for the aged” (Leviticus 19:32, NLT). As mentioned earlier, some other ways that younger Christian men and women can show respect for their elders include demonstrating heartfelt gratitude for their elders, spending time with their elders (attentively and politely listening to them), volunteering to help their elders, and interacting with their elders whenever the opportunities present themselves.
The main reason why it is important to respect elders, especially by interacting with them, is because the gifts of wisdom and knowledge that elders possess are an everlasting inheritance that only can be transferred to those individuals who have contact with and are emotionally involved with elders. In this age of knowledge and wisdom seekers, where the more one knows the greater the opportunities for this person to succeed, it is essentially a must for Christians to desire to be in service for the Lord and found doing compassionate acts for mankind—especially for their elders. If love can bring a person to “do good,” and if fear can lead a person to “turn from evil,” then being compassionately involved with the welfare of elders, who also are concerned about the welfare of others, and fearing God, who is the One who promotes or demotes humans, will cause the elders to transfer their wisdom and knowledge to those people who are both the doers of good and the worshippers of God. Furthermore, according to God’s Word, the person who finds/obtains divine wisdom will receive an abundant, eternal life and “…favor from God” (cf. Proverbs 8:35, NIV).
However, if God’s Word isn’t enough to motivate believers (or unbelievers) to respect and be compassionate with their elders, then people should respect their elders simply because what goes around certainly will come back around. In essence, if the younger men and women who have disrespected and mistreated their elders live long enough, as sure as they were born, these individuals will be disrespected and mistreated when they become elders. So, take my word for it when I say that this fifty-something born again and saved believer, who has experienced what it feels like to be disrespected and mistreated, knows that, no matter how strong and/or spiritual a person is, it NEVER feels “good” to be disrespected or mistreated!