As a relatively young pastor, I have had to learn and apply this teaching to my own life over and over again. I am not teaching pure theory. This comes from years of practical application. As people, our sin nature does not like authority. Because of this natural state, it is very difficult for us to honor our elders. We have to be taught and reminded over and over again. That is why “Honor your father and mother” is a command. It is a command because it goes against our nature. Showing honor and respect to elders is not natural to anyone. It is a conscious effort that we must make, moment by moment, day by day. The command to honor has no time limit. Even when you are married and have your own kids, you are still to honor your father and mother. The same is true once you receive authority yourself, you must still respect the authority of those who are older than you are.
I. Walk humbly in authority
In Titus 2, Paul teaches Titus how to walk in the spiritual authority in which he has been given. Titus seems to be a relatively young pastor, as was Timothy. As a spiritual leader, you will have people of all ages under your spiritual authority. This authority is not something that you seek. It is something that God has delegated to you. Not to walk in that authority is actually false humility and ultimately sin. Paul has to command Titus not to let anyone disregard him. In order not to let anyone disregard your spiritual authority, you must use the Word of God to teach, exhort, and reprove with all godly authority. When a spiritual authority figure teaches the Word of God, the Word goes to work. The Word of God reveals where we are wrong, shows us how to get back right, and trains us to walk the right path. It hurts to be shown where you are wrong and corrected but, it is necessary. When the Word takes us to the proverbial “wood shed” we need to be encouraged. That is what exhortation is. A spiritual authority figure will be placed in situations where this will have to happen among older men and women. The confrontation must take place because that is what God teaches us. How do we do it in a way that honors God and the older person at the same time?
II. Correct your elders in love
Paul gives us the answer in I Timothy 5. When you have to correct your elders, do not do it sharply as to rebuke them. Let the Word of God do the rebuking. Present the confrontation to the elder as an appeal. The word appeal is much different than the word rebuke. It is much less harsh. Rebuke is not wrong because God rebukes and He empowers His leaders to do the same. Appeal here means to come along side in a loving way and speak words of encouragement. In the case where correction needs to be made, it must be done in an encouraging way. Treat an older person under you spiritual authority as a father or as a mother. Correction still must be made but the way it is done reveals your own spiritual maturity. Now, later in the passage, Paul teaches Timothy if that same older person does not listen to your appeal and continues in sin, then he or she is to be rebuked openly, as a teaching moment for all. It must be done privately at first, with the right attitude. If things do not change, then the appeal becomes a rebuke (still done in love and for the good of all, including the one being rebuked). That is why Paul writes in verse 22, not to lay hands on (affirm) spiritual leaders before they are ready to lead. If you do so, they are set up to handle situations like correcting older people the wrong way. The spiritual authority which God delegates to us does not make us into little tyrants. If we are given position too soon, that is what we can turn into very quickly because of our sin nature.
III. Learn from your elders
Always have a teachable spirit, no matter what your spiritual position is. Leviticus 19:32 teaches us to honor those who are older than we are. In fact, the honor that we show to elders is a manifestation of our respect for God. If we cannot or do not honor our elders, this does not mean that they do not need correcting from time to time, then we really do not respect God. Our treatment of older people is a sign of our relationship with God. It is a thermometer that reveals our spiritual state before God. Our modern society turns its nose up at the elderly, moving them out of the way as quickly as possible. This attitude reveals just how far away from God our society has drifted. I Peter 5 teaches us that we are to be submissive to our elders because this reveals our true state, a state of humbleness. We are all very proud people from birth and God has to break that in us. When we connect with Him, He changes us and places humility in our lives. We have/need to learn to walk in humility and, submission to our elders is a perfect teaching opportunity. You are not humble before God, and He opposes the proud, if you can not humble yourself before your elders. Again, this is a thermometer moment to show us the true state of our relationship with God. If you do not humble yourself before God and manifest that by submission to your elders, then you are at risk of falling prey to the adversary, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion seeking the right opportunity to attack. A prideful attitude sets off the enemy’s blood lust and he greedily attacks. Finally, Jesus teaches us how to respect our elders and keep from falling into hypocrisy. The Pharisees were taught to honor their fathers and mothers. They wanted to show an outward sign of obedience but inwardly, they honored themselves, because like all of us, they had a sin nature that was insatiable. They masked their selfishness in the cloak of religion and superficial dedication to the Lord. These people’s parents were in their old age and needed help from the very children they sacrificed to raise to maturity. Now, these children loved wealth more than their parents and instead of helping their parents in their time of need, they told their parents that all of their money was dedicated to God so, if they helped them (the very people who invested in them to raise them up to this position in life) they would be stealing from God. Therefore, they were able to keep their money and spend it on themselves instead of helping others. This is in Mark 7. This angered Jesus. We can easily fall into the same trappings because when it comes to being selfish, we are experts and can justify almost anything.
So my dear friend, what is your relationship with your elders like? How do you view those who are older and wiser than you are? Do you feel superior to those who have spent their lives building a society that you are the direct benefactor of in this modern world? Do you have spiritual authority over people who are older than you are? How are you using that position to honor God and show respect to your elders? Are you willing to learn from your elders? Do you seek to help your elders to show your appreciation for what they have done for you? Based on your attitude toward your elders, what does this say about your relationship with God? May the Lord help us honor Him by respecting and honoring our elders.