It’s a strange thing to see arguments for why an entire demographic of people are “the worst.” But as a member of the “Millennial” generation, it is apparently not only acceptable, but almost trendy (just try googling Millennial and worst). But disesteem doesn’t only run downhill. Many Millennials roll their eyes not only at the clichéd caricatures of themselves they hear from older generations, but at the older generations themselves.
This is, of course, nothing close to a new phenomenon. Envy, conflict, and disrespect have never been confined to the “neighbors” within our own generation. We all need Jesus to restore relationships not only with those who are near to us, but to those who are different.
Without Christ’s restorative grace, such intergenerational pride will endure. “But it shall not be so” in Jesus’s church (Mark 10:43). We need each other. And God provides the grace for both young and old to reach out to one another in grace and understanding. The church is not only forties and under (woe to us if it were!). And the church is not only fifties and over (again, woe to us if it were!). God calls, utilizes, and sanctifies his children of all ages.
Exhortation for Younger Believers
Pride is a species-wide disease for humans, reflective of our enmity with God and inheritance from Adam. However, its manifestations are many and some are subtle and difficult to detect.
In young people, our pride is often manifested in the illusion that youth is forever. In foolishness, we forget old age. No matter how young you are, old age is coming for you — unless God wills your time be short. Wisdom only comes when God helps us “to number our days” and enables that truth to penetrate our hearts so that we use what time we have wisely and in a manner glorifying to him.
Youthful rebellion lies at the heart of sin’s corruption. Perhaps surprisingly, Paul lists it alongside those who hate God and invent evil, the heartless and brutal (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2). Younger generations have a reputation of being petulant, rebellious, and contentious. Whether these characterizations are fair or not, the point remains: in Christ “the grace of God has appeared . . . training us to renounce ungodliness” (Titus 2:11–12).
Our solution is not to prove our worth to older generations, but to lean on the life-transforming grace of God. And older believers are one of God’s greatest gifts to bring this about.
How God Gets Us to Grow
Fellow young believers, the godly older people in your life and congregations have walked through similar spiritual storms, valleys, deserts, and obstacles that you are walking through right now. I cannot guarantee they’ll be perfect mentors or models, but God has placed you under their influence for your good and growth in godliness. Walking through life with them will not yield a mess-free or easy life — but by God’s grace, it can be a life pointed toward Christ.
It is the grace of God that we have people older than us to walk with us, pray for us, and guide us. It’s arrogant of us to think that we don’t need to listen to them. We are exhorted to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We are not called to try and do this alone.
Older believers can be of monumental help in instructing us in fleeing these temptations, as well as pursuing the godly qualities. Learning how to handle aging well now from those who have already experienced it will save you much strife in life. Paul even goes so far as to say that older believers should be considered with the affection and respect of parents (1 Timothy 5:1).
Exhortation to Older Believers
I understand that learning and listening to someone much younger than you is hard and humbling. What could I know that those with twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years more life experience than me don’t know? It’s not the number of our years, however, but the work of the Holy Spirit that brings wisdom. “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. . . . But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:9, 8). Whatever true wisdom we have comes from the Holy Spirit, not ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:5).
In general, we have a hatred of aging in our world (historically and currently), but the answer is not nitpicking and looking for things to criticize about those running after you (1 Timothy 4:12). The answer is to look toward God who is still the same in your old age and, even in your time of gray hair, will bear you (Isaiah 46:4). As your wrinkles have come, his love has not faded for you. In the weakness of your flesh, he stands ready to uphold you.
It is a grace of God that the young people in your life have been placed there. After all, “gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). You have a great opportunity to pass on the deposit of faith entrusted to you to the next generation (2 Timothy 4:5–6). This is a great task that cannot be accomplished without blood-purchased humility. Don’t pass on the chance to set the next generation of the church on your shoulders because you think they don’t hold the same values that you do — chances are they do, and they need your wisdom to steward them wisely.
Friends We Need
Both youth and old age have their advantages and disadvantages (Proverbs 20:29). Whatever the new generations bring is under God’s sovereign hand; whatever passes away with the old has been taken away by that same hand.
Whether eight years old or eighty, we are not all-knowing. However, we are all called alongside one another to worship the one who is, humbly seeking one another’s growth, sanctification, and joy. Let us not tear each other apart in arrogance over age-related differences. God has set us all in our times in history according to his good pleasure and purpose.
Young and old, we are all members of one body. The friends we need are not exactly like us — the friends we need are at different levels of maturity, experience, and wisdom than ourselves. And this is exactly what Christ gives us in his church.