In a classic story told by Daniel Lapin, an old teacher was flying on an airplane and found himself seated next to a prominent liberal politician. Soon after the plane took off, one of the teacher’s students, who was sitting a few rows back, began waiting on his master hand and foot. Sir, let me take your shoes—here is a pair of slippers; I know how your feet tend to swell. Here is a sandwich; I know how you hate airline food.
Finally the politician spoke up: “That’s amazing. I’m so impressed with your son. I have four grown sons, and they never do anything for me. How do you get him to serve you so diligently?”
The teacher responded, “Actually he’s my student. If he were my son, you would have really seen service. But you must not blame yourself. Your sons are faithful to your teachings, and my sons are faithful to my teachings. It is simple, you see. You made the decision to teach your sons that you are descended from apes. That means you are one generation closer to the ape than they. And that means that it is only proper and appropriate that you acknowledge their status and that you serve them. But, you see, I chose to teach my sons that we were created by the Almighty God Himself. And that puts me one generation closer to Him—which means that it’s appropriate that they treat me accordingly.”
God is a strong advocate of passing down instruction from generation to generation. He wants godly knowledge to grow within families. He wants children to be instructed not only by their parents, but also their grandparents (Deuteronomy 4:9).
That means the older must have a mind to teach those younger, and the younger must have a mind to learn from those older. God wants children growing up with a deep sense of honor toward their elders, and adults developing as teachers as we age. Everybody benefits!
God loves to see a family business lasting generations—a father teaching his trade to his sons, sons tracing the footsteps of their father. Jesus Christ exemplified this principle (e.g. Luke 2:49).
Without family education, each generation starts from scratch, stumbling through life making the same mistakes as the one before.
An old Plain Truth made this point: “Imagine, if you will, a person going through kindergarten, grammar school, junior high school, high school, junior college, college, doing postgraduate work, sacrificing, working hard, finally obtaining a doctorate in some field, and then being told he must quit and be unproductive the rest of his days.
“Sound unreasonable? It would be.
“Most older people have gone through the ‘school of hard knocks’; by experience they have learned valuable lessons about handling life’s difficult moments as well as its rewarding moments. And what happens when they are at the stage in life where they could share that information with younger generations? The younger generations, for the most part, turn a deaf ear.
“Modern, youth-oriented society as it is set up simply does not warmly welcome the participation of the elderly. It does not as a whole show a genuine interest in the well-being of its senior members” (September 1984).
In society at large, God has removed the benefit of the wise leadership of “the ancient” (Isaiah 3:1-2). Children and babes rule in their place and behave proudly against their elders (verses 4-5).
We need to recognize this crisis and take whatever steps we can to correct it in our own lives. Both parties in the interaction—old and young—are responsible for making it work.
Older people can often see younger people making mistakes and stumbling through life ignorant of the consequences of their choices. As much as we may want to look away and leave them to their own devices, God repeatedly seeks to instill in those with wisdom and experience a sense of duty toward those without it. Read passages such as Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Exodus 13:8-16, Joshua 4:4-9 and Psalm 78—these are just a few of the dozens of scriptures that focus on this important principle.
Of course, such instruction can fall on deaf ears. Thus it is crucial for young people to be trained and taught to be receptive. How would God have the “ancient” treated? “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head [the gray hairs of the aged], and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). The New International Version renders this verse, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”
You can see how God links the concept of respect for the elderly with reverence for Him. They are connected. After all, God is the “Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:13).
Rich intergenerational relationships—rich with teaching by those elder and respect by those younger—are a tremendous resource we cannot afford not to cultivate. They are truly one of the most satisfying blessings a God-centered family life has to offer!