I grew up in a home in which one of the first lessons taught was “son, respect your elders.” My mother instilled in me that to older people, always respond “yes sir,” “no sir,” “yes mam,” & “no mam.” I realize that this sort of teaching and thought has been somewhat lost on youth of today and the evidence is normally obvious. I only questioned why I had to be respectful to people who were older than me once and I was taught that their wisdom and simply their experience in life demanded unwarranted respect from those who were younger. Therefore, I gave it and as I grew older I began to understand this lesson.
Respect given, no questions asked, no reason to doubt that it was deserving. All the while I grew and became older myself, I heard in conversations with older people their disdain for younger people. I can remember hearing my father remind me that the decisions I made at times or my passions were based on the fact that I was young and did not fully know what it was I thought I wanted or desired. He, and others older than I, attempted to teach me from their own life experiences and lessons they have learned the hard way. Did I always listen? Of course not. Do I often wish that I had? You betcha.
Today though, at 33 years of age, I find myself in an intermediate area of life. I am at the point where if a younger person other than my own children were to say “yes sir” or “no sir” to me, I might be offended while at the same time appreciative to the parents of that child for teaching them respect. I am not old, but I am not young. I know that as a person, Christian, and man I have much much more to learn while at the same time knowing some unchanging truths in this world that, often due to teaching from elders, I know will never change. The most important of these truths being the perfect gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ sent to seek and save a lost people to call His own.
I believe that Paul foresaw the fact that because of this tendency of old to reject young, that he had to prepare Timothy for the fact that although Timothy would teach the truth, that many older people would reject his teaching simply based upon his age. In 1 Timothy chapter 4, Paul is seeking to remind his young protege’ that Timothy must never deviate from teaching people the hope of God found in Jesus Christ. While doing so, Paul writes to Timothy “let no one despise you for your youth…” in verse 12.
This word despise in the original language is literally defined as “to contemn, despise, disdain, think little or nothing of.” Paul, being raised himself by great teachers, must have had an ear as a youth in which he knew that Timothy’s teaching risked being rejected based upon the fact that Timothy was a young man. As a young man preaching I find these words encouraging. If a man trained by Paul himself underwent disdain from older people because of his age, then why would I become upset when the same happens to me. Do I change the message of the gospel to please them? No. Do I change the message of the gospel to be more pleasing to my contemporaries and turn my back upon the elderly? Of course not.
The proper response, as instructed by Paul, is to continue in the teaching of God’s word, ignoring the disdain of the elderly in the hope that at some point, the gospel will do what the gospel says it does. It pricks, it hurts, and at times it blows the dust off of a heart that possibly had closed itself to hearing the need for Jesus in their life. Recently feeling “despised” myself by an older element in my own historically great congregation, I turned to the eldership of our church. Concerned that I am saying or doing something wrong, God placed the following words in the mouth of an elder that reassured me that this despising is based upon something other than me presenting the gospel wrong. The elder said to me: “the message you are preaching is pricking hearts that maybe have not been pricked in a long time and they are unsure how to react to it because it hurts.” My response: “yes sir, thank you sir.”
May God continue to bless our churches with elders who understand the working of the gospel of Jesus Christ and may God bless the preachers who have not sold the gospel message in order to be pleasing to the masses and the hard of heart. Second only to Christ, it is in my opinion based upon the study of God’s word, these two elements that will assure a continuation of our great churches. May we refuse to be like the world who rejects the opinion and wisdom of our older members and patiently work with them.