What the Bible says about older people

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As set out in our basis of faith, we hold to the divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.

The video lists some of the scriptural passages that refer to older age (later life).

The following lessons from the Scriptures are adapted from “Living out God’s Purpose in our Senior Years”, written by Louise Morse and Roger Hitchings and published by Pilgrims’ Friend Society in 2014. Click here to buy a copy of this book.

The Bible is positive about old age

Old age is not a mistake in God’s design.  He planned old age to be a season of harvest for His older people, a time of accumulated wisdom and experience from a life spent with Him.  It is also a time of continuing growth. ‘They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green,’ (Psalm 92:14).  But the Bible is also realistic about the challenges of older age (Psalm 90:9).

Older believers are repositories of God’s goodness

Older believers are repositories of God’s goodness over the years.  They are full of accounts of His acts in their lives.  Many of the psalms say these should be shared with others, to give God glory, and to encourage and build up others (Psalm 78 is an example).

People in later life are to be respected

Older people should be respected for their wisdom: Leviticus 19:32. In an ancient culture there was a saying that the ruler did not worry until the grey beards murmured.

The young and old provide a balance in the church

John’s letter to the church shows the balance of young and old: ‘I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.  I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.  I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.’ 1 John 2:12-14.

The same model is seen in Titus 2:1-4. ‘You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.  Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and endurance. 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 the younger women to love their husbands and children.’

Many things can only be learnt by experience and experience is something that comes with years.  Clearly, the young and old provide a balance in the church.

Old age is something that God meant to be enjoyed

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their grey hair.’ Proverbs 20:29. Old age is:

  • A blessing
  • A time of fullness in knowing God
  • To be a period of growth
  • To be marked by a particular religious and ethical witness and testimony
  • A time of exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit – ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Galatians 5:22,23
  • A time for sharing God’s goodness manifested over a life time
  • A time given to us by the Lord to fully prove His grace and to prepare ourselves to enter glory satisfied with all God’s goodness. Psalm 91:16
  • A time for mentoring the younger generation

The Bible identifies specific contributions expected from people in later life

The Bible sets out some of the specific gifts and contributions that older people can make to the body of Christ (the Church). These include:

  • Wisdom and experience gained (2 Corinthians 13:5)
  • Wisdom and experiences to share (Psalm 71:8)
  • God’s word proven (Psalm 37:25)
  • A right perspective on God’s timing (1 Peter 3:8)
  • A fuller understanding of the importance of personal spiritual growth and deep intercession, rather than “doing things” (Psalm 84: 1,2)
  • An anticipation of heaven, living in the light of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Future work

We are delighted that the Pastors’ Academy at London Seminary has agreed to take this work further and has appointed Ian Knox to head up the Faith in Later Life Theological work. Ian has already published a very significant and widely disseminated book ‘Older People and the Church’ which means that he has a significant head-start in this field. He is a lucid writer who is experienced in consulting experts in particular areas and then expressing the findings of his research in an accessible and engaging manner.

The research will be looking at the following key themes and developing ways of describing the teaching of the Bible on matters of later life:

Usefulness in life

  • A theology for ‘retirement’ and Christian service that identifies particular contributions and gifts expected from older people and that holds for a society where life expectancy is increasing.
  • God’s purposes in and through ageing.

Church and community

  • A theology of community and intergenerational relationships within that community.
  • A theology of “church” that sets out the intergenerational relationships God intended.
  • A theology of usefulness in church that explains the positive role of older people even as mental and physical capabilities decline.

Dementia and cognitive impairment

  • A theology of personhood that holds when a person is living with dementia and cognitive impairment and/or a loss of other physical or mental capabilities.
  • A theology of salvation (becoming a Christian) and assurance (remaining a Christian) that holds when a person is living with dementia and cognitive impairment and/or a loss of other physical or mental capabilities.
  • A theology of worship when living with dementia and cognitive impairment and/or a loss of other physical or mental capabilities.
  • God’s purposes in and through dementia and cognitive decline.

Caring and being cared for

  • A theology of dependency that holds for a society where many people will need a period of “care”, and where independence is widely prized.
  • A theology of loving and caring that holds when the physical and mental aspects of “loving as you love yourself” become injurious to health of the carer and/or “unsafe” in other ways.

Evangelism

  • Old, but new-born!
  • Reaching older people with the good news.
  • Theological foundations and fruitful practices.

This work will provide the Biblical foundation on which Christians can build ministries that use the special gifts of older people and reach out in love and support to those who need help.

If you are a church leader and want to stay in touch with this stream of work, please subscribe here.

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