Aging is a universal reality in this world, for as time progresses, we progress with it. Aging brings many sorrows as we face greater exposure to the sin that lives within us and the sin that pollutes everything around us. Aging also brings many joys as we experience God’s rich blessings, and especially as we receive greater exposure to his renewing work. If sorrows are inevitable, is there a way of living that can diminish their impact? Is there something we can do so that these sorrows do not drive us to bitterness, vice, or despair? And if joys are possible, is there a way of living that allows us to experience more of them, to experience them in their fullness?
One of the ways to diminish the sorrows and amplify the joys is to embrace the responsibility that comes with aging. Throughout the Bible, God associates aging with responsibility. With increased age comes increased responsibility. Here are five of the responsibilities that come with age and increase with age.
The Responsibility of Maturity
With aging comes the responsibility of maturity. No matter our age, it’s our responsibility to act that age. No matter how old we are or how long we have been Christians, we need to grow up and keep growing up. We see the connection between time and maturity in many places in the New Testament, but particularly in the letter to the Hebrews, where a concerned pastor challenges his church in this area. “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:11-12). He reminds his congregation that much time has passed since they came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That time has given them opportunity to mature, but they haven’t. While their physical age has increased, their spiritual maturity has actually decreased. He warns them: You need to grow up! You need to act your spiritual age! Of course, there are many who become Christians later in life, which will affect their level of spiritual maturity in old age. But the fact remains that older men and older women who are older Christians carry the responsibility of spiritual maturity.
To our growing maturity we need to add humility, so that we do not act above our station, overstepping the boundaries of our years. Where we have not yet gained authority we must not speak as if we have. The man who has been married for two years has no business speaking as if he has been married for twenty. The woman whose oldest child is a toddler must guard herself from speaking as if she has already successfully raised her children to independence. Paul warns Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father…” (1 Timothy 5:1a). Young Timothy had no business castigating an older man. If he had to exhort an older man living in sin, he was to do it with respect and humility.
As we age, we gain the responsibility to act in a way fitting for that age. This is true of our physical age and our spiritual age. We need to grow up!
The Responsibility of Involvement
Added to this is the responsibility of involvement, and especially involvement in the local church. When we are young, it can be easy and exciting to be deeply engaged in a church community. But as we reach adulthood and continue to age, life has a way of interfering even with something as valuable as church. The duties of life threaten to push us away from our friendships, our service, and even our worship. Education, work, children, grandchildren, and hobbies are all tremendous blessings, but even they can diminish our investment and involvement in the church. Or perhaps the burdens of aging and the compounding sorrows of life can cause us to be withdrawn.
We do well listen to David’s praise and prayer in Psalm 71:
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (17-18)
Even in old age, even with gray hair, David knew it was his responsibility to proclaim God’s power to the next generation. The wisdom and godliness represented by his gray head were exactly what the next generation needed. His years had allowed him to accumulate great storehouses of wisdom, maturity, humility—what was so desperately lacking in his children and children’s children. David determined that he would never use his age as an excuse. He understood that with increased age came heightened responsibility. He would stay involved, he would remain invested, to the glory of God.
The Responsibility of Example
Then there is the responsibility of example, of setting an example of the character and conduct that God commends. We expect little from children when it comes to modeling such traits. But as they grow into their teens and then pass into their 20s and 30s, we rightly expect much more. With aging we gain the special responsibility of setting an example to those who are younger than we are. Titus 2:2-3 lays out specific ways that older people are to serve as an example to younger people. “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good…” Older men are to cultivate and display specific character traits—traits that are appropriate for their age and lacking in those who are younger. Older women, too, gain new responsibilities of character and conduct that serve as an example to younger women.
No matter our age, we are responsible to set an example to others, and especially to those who are younger than we are. In God’s design, we tend to look at people who are just a little bit further along. We admire them, we imitate them, we want to be like them. For that reason, we all must display the character and conduct that serve as a fitting example for those who will soon be our physical and spiritual age. The more we age, the more we grow into this special responsibility.
The Responsibility of Mentoring
Closely related to the responsibility of example is the responsibility of mentoring. It is not enough merely to set an example. We also need to take an interest in people who are younger than we are, to be involved in their lives, and to deliberately teach and train them. The passage in Titus 2 continues in this way: “Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:3-6).
By virtue of their age, along with wisdom and godliness that attend it, older women gain the responsibility of teaching and training younger women. They are to teach these younger women to exercise wisdom, to display godliness, and in turn, to set an example to the generation that will follow them. Older men gain the same responsibility toward younger men.
It is as if the mature Christian has been climbing a trail up a long, steep mountain. Some stretches have taken every bit of effort and every bit of skill to navigate safely. He has almost reached the summit but turns to see a friend coming up behind. This friend has made good progress, but he has come to a part of the trail that is especially dangerous. What is our leader to do? He is to help, of course. Though he may not have the strength to carry his young friend up the mountain, he has the experience to demonstrate and the wisdom to guide. As we age, each of us becomes responsible for those who are aging behind us.
The Responsibility of Watchfulness
One further responsibility that comes with aging and increases with greater aging is the responsibility of watchfulness. We tend to associate falling into sin with youth, with the desire for wanton pleasure that marks so many young people. We read the alarming statistics about how many young people drift away from their parents’ religion as soon as they gain their independence. Yet greater age only heightens the need for watchfulness, for as Paul warns, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
There are some, perhaps many, who fall away in old age. We can think of young Solomon, who showed such promise and displayed such wisdom. Yet “when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon was swayed by lifelong patterns of foolish disobedience. He failed to keep watch and very nearly made shipwreck of his faith. It was only the grace of God that held off the fearsome consequences of Solomon’s sin.
There are many who profess faith in Christ in their youth and fall away before the end. Some fall in their early years, some in the middle, many near the end. These are the ones who fail to embrace and maintain the responsibility of watchfulness.
Here we have five responsibilities that come to us by virtue of aging—the responsibilities of maturity, involvement, example, mentoring, and watchfulness. Embracing these responsibilities helps diminish the sorrows that come to all who live in this world. It helps enhance the fullness of the joys that come with aging. It ensures that our gray hairs will be a crown of glory rather than a crown of shame (Proverbs 16:31).