“Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged.” Leviticus [19:32]
In 1991 my wife, Harriet, and I were appointed to be Southern Baptist missionaries to Nigeria. I was assigned to teach Bible classes at Baptist High School in Jos, a large northern city. I was also assigned to work with the school’s church planting program. In this program, led by the assistant principal Deacon Frama Abraham, the school asked for volunteers from among the student body to help plant and encourage churches in surrounding areas.
As a new teacher at Baptist High School, I was impressed with the level of respect the students gave me as a teacher. The students usually didn’t change rooms for classes. The teachers would rotate from class to class. When the students would see me coming across the campus, they would send one or two out to greet me and to take my books from me. They would then carry them into the classroom where they placed them on the lectern. The whole class would stand and say “Good morning, sir.” They would remain standing until I told them to sit down. At the end of class, they would sometimes stand and tell me goodbye as I left if I had not gone overtime and they weren’t rushed to prepare for whatever was next. Coming from about five years of teaching experience in the U.S., this was quite different.
So, why would these young people have been taught to show such respect? One reason is cultural. There is an African proverb that says, “When an older person dies, a library is lost.” Also, the Bible teaches clearly that the elderly should be respected as the verse quoted above from Leviticus points out. But why? And is this only directed to youth and children? I believe it is directed towards all of us. And many sources point out that the older folks around us have a lot of wisdom from the living of their lives which can benefit the rest of us if we will only listen and learn. Our youth learn from the examples we set for them. As they see us show respect and speak respectfully, they learn to imitate that.
My challenge to all of us is this: Let’s slow down a little and show proper respect to others, particularly those who are our elders.
Remember, Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew [22:39])
Clint Bowman