I suppose there’s such a thing as the sins of the young: impetuousness, impatience, anger, and lust, for instance. Left alone, these weeds will grow and make for an ugly and joyless life.
But I also suppose there are sins of age. Perhaps these are just the sins of the young left to grow for a very long time. Older adults can become bitter, critical, and withdrawn.
I have a theory that we can, to some extent, hide our sinful tendencies when we’re younger. We’re able to wear a mask, and it can take a while for people to find out what’s really going on in our lives. Live long enough and it’s hard to maintain that mask. Who we are will be visible for all to see.
That’s why I’m grateful for those who have put off the sins that can grow as we age and have followed Christ faithfully for years.
Because here’s the thing: younger Christians are looking for older saints. They — as a 55-year-old, I can no longer include myself in their number — are looking for examples to imitate. It’s a biblical concept, after all (1 Corinthians 4:15-17, 11:1; Philippians 3:17, 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 2 Timothy 3:10-11). Over and over, Paul tells others to imitate him. We need examples to imitate, who show us what it’s like to become godly as we get older.
To our shame, there was a period in which the aged were seen as unimportant in many churches. In direct contradiction of Scripture (Proverbs 16:31, 20:29; 1 Timothy 5:1), we valued youth. Through our actions, we told older men and women that they no longer mattered and that it was time for the youth to lead now.
No longer. I sense the opposite in the church today: a desire for older men and women to emulate. When churches lack these older saints, they feel it. When churches have these older saints, you will often find younger saints drawn to them because they want to learn and be encouraged.
I saw such a saint, a retired pastor, at church last Sunday. I spent some time with leaders the week before in the church. I asked them who was worth emulating in the church, and they all mentioned one man. I said that I hoped to meet him, and was assured that I would because this man would find me.
Sure enough, on Sunday, he came to introduce himself and encourage me. The day after, he sent me an email thanking me for my sermon and signed the email, “Your new friend and brother.”
This man may be retired from vocational ministry, but don’t think for a minute that his ministry is over. A church with such a saint is blessed; a church that lacks men and women like this is in desperate need of one.
Because when we find someone like this, we see the fruit of the Spirit that has had decades to grow. We feel drawn to Jesus. We find hope that, by God’s grace, we might become such a saint too.
Younger Christians are looking for older saints. Older saints: your ministry isn’t over. We need you. Show us what it’s like to follow God faithfully. Encourage us. The church needs you, and we’re more grateful for you than you could know.