May 6, 2013

Live Long & Prosper: Supercentenarians and Family Support

by Clint Archer

The highest grade in the officially recognized Chinese martial arts system is Ninth Duan. It is a prestigious honor that takes a lifetime of sustained training and experience to attain. The most famous martial master to achieve this level, is Lu Zijian; and it only took him 109 years.

Lu Zijian

Born in China, in 1893, Zijian developed a love for various Chinese martial arts. He was a late bloomer in the world of competitive fighting, and won his first significant gold medal in 1911 at the age of 18. His notoriety grew rapidly when he killed a well-known Japanese boxer with the palm of his hand, in a single blow.

On January 2, 2009 Lu Zijian inherited the unique but ominously transitory title of Oldest Person in the World, at 116 years old. The spritely supercentenarian was still immersed in the world of martial arts, actively participating in competitions and widely sought-after as an instructor. Zijian eventually died on February 20, 2012, after 118 years, 128 days of life (once you pass 110, every day is a birthday).

Accounts like this inspire me greatly to have a long-term perspective of my life. If Zijian knew how long he would live, retirement planning in his sixties would be considered a midlife crisis! When most people’s vitality is winding down rapidly in their eighties, this fighting fit octogenarian was just getting warmed up.

I find that in the church, some elderly saints have irrepressible energy and contagious joie de vivre, while others have a bleak outlook on the impending autumn of their lives.

Certainly life’s disappointments and trials take their toll on people differently. And the Scriptures present an unvarnished realism about the physical troubles that accompany aging (Eccl 12:1-8). But the Bible is also full of admonitions to the elderly to be good stewards of their life experience and the wisdom that comes only with age. In stark contrast to the “planned obsolescence” of our society’s modern retirement mindset, God’s expectation of His elderly saints is they remain fruitful.

old tree young treePs 92:12  The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  13  They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  14  They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,  15  to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Jay Adams writes of this passage,

Surely that description doesn’t sound like obsolescence. God’s attitude, as it normally does, conflicts sharply with that of the world. An older green tree, thriving and production fruit, is hardly one that you would uproot and replace with a younger one. It seems that God expects the righteous to lead a vital, useful life among his fellow believers no matter what his age.

Adams possesses a good-natured bluntness that is admirable in this context. He provides this simple response to the age-old cop-out You can’t teach old dogs new tricks: “Tell him he is not a dog!”

People who have lived a long time have that much more credibility when they proclaim the goodness and faithfulness of God. Consider the power of this statement coming from an aged David,

Ps 37:25  I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

There are at least two significant ways the elderly—and especially grandparents—can support younger families in their pursuit of God’s glory.

Wisdom Support without Being Overbearing Lu Zijian performing kata

The Bible is unabashed at extolling the virtue of age. The Scriptures recognize the school of hard knocks as a reputable place of learning.

Prov 16:31 Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Prov 20:29 The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

God gives the gift of wisdom to the aged so that they can share it with the younger generations.

Titus 2:2  Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.  3  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  4  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  5  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

The assumption Paul has is that the younger people are lacking knowledge and experience that the older people have. So the older need to teach and train and set an example for the younger. This is how wisdom is passed down. This should be the preoccupation and occupation of the those in the church family who have been blessed with many years of life. As the Psalmist proclaims,

Psalm 71 :17  O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.  18  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

The counsel one gives to younger people, especially in the context of teaching younger relatives (e.g. the proverbial sticky-wicket of a lady advising her daughter-in-law) can become an area of contention between the generations. The advice needs to be offered through the grid of the Genesis 2 reality that grandparents do not carry biblical authority per se. It is important that parents and in-laws respect God’s “leave and cleave” principle. The new husband and wife are a new and distinct family before God, with their own responsibilities and authority structure.

The young family is not merely another branch on a family tree, it is a new sapling that needs support to grow, but must be regarded as it’s own unit.

Financial Support without Enabling Overdependence

I saw a bumper-sticker on a boat trailer being hauled by a gray-haired man and his wife, that declared cheerfully, “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” I found it funny, but I also felt sympathy for the man’s kids. The attitude that “This is my money that I have earned for my enjoyment” misses the biblical truth that all wealth is a gift from God, to be used for God’s purposes. One of the reasons God gives wealth is to enjoy it to His glory, but another reason is to meet the needs of those who have needs. And this is especially true of family (see 1 Tim 5:8). In God’s view, using your wealth to help your children become established in life is a virtue.

Prov 13:22  A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.

It is just common sense that parents (generally speaking) would possess a financial advantage and stability that their fledgling young adults don’t yet have. When Paul assured the Corinthians—whom he considered to be his spiritual children—that he would not be a financial burden on them, he stated the truism that it is normal for parents bless their children financially:

2 Cor 12:14  Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.Lu Zijian at 118

I’m not implying that it is healthy to provide ongoing support to enable a higher lifestyle. This can beget laziness and overdependence on parents. Rather than an indefinite stream of parental income, it is helpful for wise parents to provide once-off assistance with purchases that aid in establishing their children’s family for the long term. For example, paying for tuition fees for a young man who cannot afford the studies required to pursue a career that can support his future wife and children. Or to buy a house by giving a lump sum help (gift or loan) for a deposit. After all, “House and wealth are inherited from fathers…” (Prov 19:14).

What are some other ways grandparents can be a blessing to their kids and their kids’ kids?

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Jim

    Thanks Clint,

    This is a good balance and needed exhortation to the church. It seems that in the USA the value of youth is extolled and exalted and that of the elderly is minimized and marginalized while here in Mexico (Latin America) there is more of a proper attitude toward the elderly, even in the church.

    Jim Dowdy
    Word of Grace Seminary
    Mexico City

    • Thanks for your input brother.

  • Heather

    “I’m not implying that it is healthy to provide ongoing support to enable a higher lifestyle. This can beget laziness and overdependence on parents.”

    Amen!!! Thanks for saying this 🙂

    K’ just a quick offshoot…I’m not a parent yet, well, not even a wife yet, so of course not a parent, but, anyways, I may not understand how a parent cares for their child, but I can say how much I appreciate how my parents raised my siblings and I. We had to start paying rent for living at home when we turned 17 years old. lol I thought it was beyond lame at the time, but, looking back, I can see why they were doing it. It taught me soo much about responsibility and working hard to make a living, but mostly about being responsible with the finances the Lord provided me. Granted, they only charged me $200 a month, but that was a lot when I was only making about $500 a month lol 😉 They never told me what they did with that money, but knowing them, I have a hunch they put that money in the offering at church every month hahaha

    Anyways, I know plenty of my peers that are WAY over-dependent on their parents, and practically live off of their credit cards and are up to their necks in debt. Where is the faith in the Lord in that? If there is any crucial time in our life to learn financial responsibility by learning how to trust in the Lord to provide for you, it is when we are young!! IMHO, young people today would be way better off, spiritually, if their parents didn’t pay for everything for them, even college. Of course, it would be hard, but if they trust in the Lord and come out with a stronger faith in the Lord, wouldn’t it all be worth it in the end!?

    All of this made me think of a quote by George Muller: “It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honoured in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised.”

    As young people today, now more than ever in our materialistic culture, we need to learn how to live simply as our Lord did, and learn how to live within the means the Lord provides for us, by learning how to live in faith! I would imagine this would also apply to those who are retired, too.

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