“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man,
and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.”
Throughout Scripture, those of older generations are honored. Gray hair is “splendor,” “a crown of glory” (Proverbs 20:29; 16:31). For those who know Christ, it is a mark of those who have experienced God’s faithfulness and power through their lives and known His forgiveness and redemption that covers their past and will continue into their future.
Our society misses this. So often, it misses the great value of these individuals, instead honoring “flawless” skin and youthful appearances. But our God does not perceive beauty along those lines. Marks of aging are marks of life, experiences worth sharing, history conveyed to younger generations not from textbooks but from those who have lived it.
I don’t have anything against dying hair, using products that strengthen and revitalize skin, or wearing makeup. The issue comes into play when we begin to degrade signs of gray and wrinkles. When we see them as flaws that must be covered. When we perceive age as something to be put off, avoided, or hidden. When we value youthful looks more highly.
Elders are to be shown honor. Truly, we are to honor all people no matter their age or characteristics (1 Peter 2:17). But the Bible – our God – particularly highlights older generations. Perhaps because He knows the temptation to lament growing older, more highly value those in society who are younger, and desire to appear youthful forever.
But life, value, purpose, and the faithfulness of God do not stop with youth. Growth continues. New experiences and relationships still await. Our outer body changes, our abilities may shift and require lifestyle adjustments, but our inner spirit continues to be renewed and there is still life to be lived (2 Corinthians 4:16). If we are still here, then God still has good works planned for us to do. Maybe it will simply be shining His light, joy, and hope from a bed in a nursing home. But there is great meaning and beauty in that role. Even if just one life is touched as a result – that one life matters, and God is glorified in our faithfulness wherever we are and whatever it looks like.
God’s focus on honoring elders shines light on the particular honor that is theirs. Because there is particular wisdom that can be gained only through experience and conveyed only by those who have grasped it. Think of who God has shown Himself to be to you. How His Word has proved true in your life. This is what others need to hear, however young or old you are. This is the value of experience. Not just reading about Him, but experiencing Him in your life and walking through circumstances to speak of them on the other side. From this viewpoint, what we can offer does not diminish as we age; it only increases.
Respect for elders – and valuing old age as life, faithfulness, and unique purpose – is connected in Leviticus 19 to our fear of the Lord. Because He values them. He has carried them each step along their way. Even considering those who are outside of Christ and do not exhibit His characteristics, their value still stands and our call to honor does not lessen.
This also applies to ourselves as we age. To view it not as loss of purpose or value, but as evidence of life and history lived thus far, and promise of continued faithfulness, growth, and new purposes as we convey God’s constancy and truth to those coming behind us.
“Even to your old age I am He,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.”
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon…
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”