I’m not an old guy.
Older than some; but not old. Old enough to have embarked on most of life’s major endeavors; but still collecting stones rather than erecting my Ebeneezer. I’m conscious that the greater balance of life is coming at me in the windshield and currently flying past my windows rather than lying behind me in the rear view mirror.
Our culture places a premium on youth. Every spring on the campuses of thousands of colleges, a seasoned (and usually interchangeable) veteran of life’s trenches takes to the graduation day podium and perpetuates this notion, telling an earnest sea of soft handed idealists that they are indeed the future and the hope of us all. Parents cry and caps are tossed in celebration of all the wide eyed and unwrinkled glory that is youth and youthfulness.
While it is not a universal maxim, it is instructive at this point to note that the Bible often treats age with great reverence (i.e. Psalm 92:12-15) and treats youth as, well… somewhere far less than that (Proverbs 7:7 and the surrounding context are illuminating). I can get away with saying this because as a youngish person, I am speaking as an insider. To my generation then, I say this: I hate to jam a stick into the spokes of your beach cruiser and make you fall and rip your skinny jeans– but if you are young then the odds that you are less wise than you think just went through the roof.
Title aside, I actually intend this post to be less of a tribute to the patriarchs and more of a summons to the whippersnappers. I’d like to say 5 things to the men of my general generation regarding the perils of our youth, the virtues of our elders, and some steps we can take to mitigate the distance between us and them.
I’d like to start with a text that highlights the problem with stark and arresting clarity. 2 Chronicles 10 reads:
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Come to me again in three days.” So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be good to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to the people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us’; thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” And the king answered them harshly; and forsaking the counsel of the old men, King Rehoboam spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God that the Lord might fulfill his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Each of you to your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So all Israel went to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah. Then King Rehoboam sent Hadoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and the people of Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam quickly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
The N.A. paraphrase (Nicolas Alford, not currently in print, thank God) renders this text as simply- dumb young guy takes throne, ignores wise old guys, listens to other dumb young guys, one man stoned to death, a nation plunged into rebellion, and a dynasty goes down the tubes (yet even in this the Lord was accomplishing His purposes). Rehoboam fell for the old premium on youth. As is typical with inexperienced leadership, the empty speech of flattering foolishness won out over the sound counsel of seasoned faithfulness.
I’m generally not a fan of obvious caveats in posts like this, but I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say that yes, there are wise young people (1 Timothy 4:12); and no, not all older people are necessarily going to give sound counsel (Ecclesiastes 4:13). There are young sages and there are old knuckleheads; true enough, but the brush of a blog is necessarily broad. As I present these thoughts, I leave it to the reader to exercise his own sense of balance and applicability of these matters.
Here then are five observations and recommendations on this issue:
1. While youth has many advantages and blessings, there are virtues and qualities which come only with time.
It is wonderful to have youthful energy and to be able to see past some of the shortcomings and blind spots of earlier generations. Yet younger people need to realize that we are in many ways incomplete. We may have zeal and even sometimes knowledge on our side, but there is a type of wisdom which comes only with experience. Practically this means that we ought to be quick to listen and slow to teach an older brother. If I had to pick between one hour of conversation with the hippest young ministry rock star or a grey headed pastor with the battle scars to attest to his counsel, I know who I’d choose.
2. Age exposes many imbalances and corrects many false assumptions.
There are things about myself from ten years ago which are embarrassing to me now, and I suspect this will be true again in ten years. A decade ago ago I was a zealous young Calvinist ready to slay Arminian dragons and present my ten point refutation of infant baptism to anyone who dared express divergent views from my own (Michael Horton accurately refers to this as the ‘cage stage’– as in we ought to keep new converts to Calvinism in a cage for a while until they mellow out). Ten years later, I’m as convinced of my Calvinism and my Baptist distinctives as ever, but I’ve realized that conviction doesn’t give me license to be a jerk. I’m also more concerned with common love for the gospel of Christ than on disagreement over secondary matters. I sometimes wonder what about myself now I will regret or modify over the next decade.
And if I haven’t adequately made the case that we will have regrets in the future about our present selves, I offer this picture of Dr. John Piper, circa 1979, which is worth a thousand words:
Even if we are the most mature of men in our youth, our fashion choices will come back to bite us.
3. Seasoned and experienced leaders ought to be given greater credibility than young and untested men.
The Lord has been gracious to put many men in my life who I can seek advice from and be influenced by. These men are quite diverse in their philosophies of ministry, their church contexts, and even their ages. Some younger men give wonderful counsel. The other contributor to this blog is about my same age, and I’ve found him to be wise beyond his years in both our personal interactions and in his posts on The Decablog.
Yet the fact remains that there is a special credibility that comes with age and experience. Paul’s counsel to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 presupposes that it would be normative for people to ‘despise his youth,’ and Timothy is to seek to be all the more credible in his life and ministry among the people of God.
4. The men who have stood the test of centuries ought to be given even greater credibility.
Quick, how many leading theologians and faithful pastors can you name from the 18th century? How about the 21st? Even if you’re a church history geek (no offense intended, I’m one of you) I’d bet the second list is far longer than the first. I’m no enemy of modernity or slave to the past, but it is true than time burns away much dross that seemed like gold at the time.
5. Make sure you are regularly rubbing shoulders with older men who bring things to the table which you lack.
I’m thankful to be a member of a church which is made up of people from multiple generations. I’m thankful for the seasoned and experienced men I’ve been taught by through Reformed Baptist Seminary. I’m thankful for the older men I’ve met at the ARBCA General Assemblies I’ve attended. I’m thankful for the older men in my family. The Lord has made me rich in this regard, and it is thankfulness for that fact which was the impetus for this post.
We who are younger need to be in regular contact with seasoned and experienced men. It’s true in ministry, and it’s true in all aspects of the Christian life. It’s true for young husbands. It’s true for young fathers. It’s also true for younger and older women (see Titus 2).
Even if there are differences and disagreements, the interaction can still be healthy. Spending time with the older generations is pointless if you just seek out people who are basically you in a grey wig. Being regularly challenged, held accountable, and taught is something we should crave rather than run from. Whether we get this in our local church, our church associations, our family, or our friends is less important than the fact that we are indeed getting it. May the Lord make us rich in this regard, and may he mold us and shape us into the sort of seasoned men who can pour ourselves into the next generation.
(By: Nicolas Alford)