We were made to exist within time, to age as we progress through the years allotted to us. As we age, we experience tremendous sorrows—the sorrows of weakness, weariness, reaping, mortality, and fear. But we do not experience only sorrows. We experience joys as well. Some of these extend to believer and unbeliever alike, but God reserves the choicest of his joys for those who live for his glory.
(Have you read parts one and two of this series about aging? You can find them here: Aging Gracefully and Greater Age Brings Greater Sorrow. After today I will move to other things for a few days before resuming and completing this series next week.)
The surging sorrows that come with aging stem from longer exposure to our depravity, to the depravity of others, and to the woeful consequences of sin in this world. The cascading joys stem from longer exposure to God’s means of grace, to his Spirit working through his Word, and to his inner work of renewal. Without Christ we cannot know any of these higher joys, but in Christ we can anticipate, experience, and enjoy them all.
We have looked at five sorrows that come with aging and increase with aging. Now we turn to five joys to see that greater age brings greater joy.
The Joy of Wisdom
As we age, we experience the joy of wisdom. One of the Bible’s repeated principles is the association of youth with foolishness and of age with wisdom. Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to “give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth,” to exhort young people to renounce their in-born folly and embrace wisdom (Proverbs 1:4). This wisdom is far more than a knowledge of how to navigate life and fulfill its responsibilities. True biblical wisdom is putting off the practical atheism that lives within us and putting on the way of thinking that flows from the mind and heart of God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7a).
As we age in Christ, we learn more of the Bible, and it takes deeper root in our lives. As the years march on, as we commit ourselves to God’s means of grace, the Holy Spirit progressively renews our minds and transforms us from within (Romans 12:1-2). Wisdom grows. Wisdom is like coffee, not Kool-Aid. We can add a packet of Kool-Aid to water, give it a quick stir, and it is ready. But coffee needs to sit, it needs to percolate, it needs time to draw out the flavor. Wisdom takes time. It takes years of meditation, years of God’s Word percolating into our minds, transforming the way we live and think. Wisdom’s full flavor is experienced late in life, not early. As we age, we experience the steadily increasing joy of steadily increasing wisdom.
The Joy of Godliness
Closely connected to the joy of wisdom is the joy of godliness. Proverbs 16:31 says: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Age is associated with godliness and greater age with greater godliness. Godliness brings nearness to God, relational intimacy with him. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” says James (James 4:8). The passing of time gives us occasion to read and apply more of God’s Word. Each passing year gives more time for the Spirit to impress the the truth we’ve learned on our hearts and continue his inward work of restoration. Each day gives us another opportunity to take hold of the Spirit’s power in putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness. As the years pass, we hear more sermons, we enjoy more Christian fellowship, we participate in the Lord’s Supper again and again. God works through it all, through each of these ordinary means, to draw us to closer, deeper relationship with himself. As time marches on, the depraved get more depraved while the godly get more godly.
Paul found joy in this and contrasted a fading body with a surging soul. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What a joy! As Christians, we experience God’s day-by-day renewal, and it continues and increases as we age. Financial interest compounds, so that small, steady deposits over a lifetime lead to the wealth needed for a comfortable retirement. Godliness also compounds, so that small, steady gains over sin and small, steady acts of righteousness lead to a great treasury of godliness in old age. As we look to the future, we will be godlier than we are today, godlier than we ever dared imagine. We continue to become like Christ until the day we see the face of Christ.
The Joy of Respect
With aging we also experience the joy of respect, the right to be respected by those who are younger. Leviticus 19:32 lays out this principle: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” The Bible demands that the young give honor and respect to the elderly. Respect for the aged is closely aligned with respect for God, since God has ordained that the old should lead the young, that their wisdom should influence and restrain youthful folly.
This respect is not meant to be displayed only in words and attitudes (“honor the face of an old man”), but also in actions (“stand up before the gray head”). The young are to take an interest in the elderly, to assist them, visit them, include them, befriend them, seek them for their wisdom. Even while contemporary Western culture disparages age and celebrates youth, young Christians are to honor the old. The old are to accept the honor and to embrace both the privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. Those who have attained years are worthy of honor. Those who have attained wisdom and godliness through the years are worthy of double honor.
The Joy of Reaping
Then there is the joy of reaping. We have already looked in this series to the book of Galatians to see that those who live a corrupt life will reap the ugly consequences, even on this side of the grave. There is sorrow in reaping, but there is joy, too. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Even in this life, we get to experience the benefits of living to the glory of God. This is the wisdom, the respect, and the godliness that come with aging in Christ. Those who sow good seed begin to harvest even now, and to harvest in greater measure as life goes by. But there’s more.
As we age, we begin to experience new joys, joys that we cannot experience apart from aging. Some reap the precious harvest of children and grandchildren who know and love the Lord. Proverbs 17:6 declares, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged.” Some reap the reward of faithful service. When Paul writes to Timothy to discuss the proper ordering of the local church, he instructs him to honor widows who have served the church well, to care for them as a return for all the ways they cared for others (1 Timothy 5:1-16). The same is expected of children toward their parents—“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4). As we progress in life, we begin to experience the beautiful consequences of a life lived in God’s way to God’s glory.
The Joy of Mortality
Then, finally, there is the joy of mortality. We know that death’s approach brings sorrow, but it also brings joy. We might think of Simeon, the old man who met baby Jesus at the temple. “He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation’” (Luke 2:28-30). After a lifetime of serving God, dear old Simeon could depart in peace and confidence because he had seen Christ. He knew his Savior, he looked forward to death, he looked forward to eternal peace, eternal reward.
The Apostle Paul regarded death as joy, not sorrow. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In fact, he was eager to die (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”), though he was also willing to remain to serve God’s people (“But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account”). With the confidence of knowing Christ, he could proclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Aging brings greater awareness of death’s inevitable approach. But for the Christian, death has lost its sting, its terror. Death is the gateway to being more alive than we have ever been, the doorway to Christ himself. Every day we age in Christ, we grow one day closer to seeing Christ, to embracing Christ, to enjoying his presence forever. What joy!
Aging is associated with sorrows, but it is also associated with joys. The Bible promises that for those who age in Christ, there are benefits stored up in this life and the life to come. There is the joy of wisdom, of godliness, of respect, of reaping, and of mortality. God is faithful to provide what he has promised.
As we age, our physical strength will diminish. Yet even as physical strength fails, spiritual strength surges. Time, the enemy of the body, is a friend to the soul. When we are young we are physically strong and spiritually weak, but when we are old we are spiritually strong and physically weak. With so great a reward ahead, the challenge is clear: If we are to live the most meaningful lives, lives that glorify God, we must age in Christ. Aging in Christ will not remove the sorrows, but it will add the joys.
As we continue, we need to ask these questions: How do we deal well with the inevitable sorrows, so that they do not drive us to bitterness, drunkenness, or the other foul vices that overtake so many as they age? How can we experience the fullness of these joys? We combat the sorrows and enhance the joys by embracing the God-given responsibilities that come with greater age and putting on more and more of the character he commends. We turn there next.