Colonial America was filled with white wigs. The 18th century was ripe with the wig wearing men who from young ages were already desiring to fit in among the wise men of the day and it was the wig that created such a bridge of opportunity. Men wore them openly in order to make a statement. Their statement was not so much to do with fashion as much as it was to do with wisdom and knowledge. We see this all throughout our nation’s history as well as church history in America. Men such as George Washington (who reportedly never wore a wig, but embodies the iconic image of the wigs of that era) and Jonathan Edwards are depicted with long flowing gray curls—although undoubtedly fake—they were wigs worn to symbolize their wisdom far more than their age. We see this all through the Puritan age of church history.
Where are all of the gray wigs today? Why do we not see them worn openly in our culture today? The evidence may point to a shift in ideas—one that favors immaturity in this youth-driven culture. What exactly does the Bible say about this whole youth focused culture? Does the Bible say anything about age and how we should approach the inevitable?
Gray May Not Be Your Thing—But Wisdom Should Be
In recent years, I have addressed the need for the younger population of the church of Jesus Christ to know, be involved with, and attend the funerals of the elderly. Tragically, our society looks over the heads of the elderly in favor of the young, the strong, and far too often—the immature. Since we live in a culture that despises the aging process and thereby disrespects the elderly—it would be wise for Christians to consider what the Bible actually says about this matter rather than adopting the culture’s patterns.
In Leviticus 19:32, we see that the Law of God insisted on the honoring of the aged. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” In other words, the biblical text points to the idea of honoring those with gray hair, but not just for the sake of their hair color. The graying of the hair represented more than an aging process—instead it pointed to the wisdom that comes with age. In most cases, the aging process allows a person to accumulate a certain amount of wisdom through life circumstances (practical wisdom) and through the study of God in theology and walking with God in life.
When we see the words of Proverbs 16:31 and couple them with Paul’s words to Timothy (a young pastor in Ephesus) regarding how he was to address older men (1 Tim. 5:1-2)—it would be extremely healthy for us to learn to respect and honor the aged among us in society in general—but especially within the local church. We may not see gray wigs on sale in a center kiosk at the local shopping mall and they may never be en vogue in our culture at any day in the future—wisdom should be attractive to us—especially to those who are followers of Jesus (James 1:5).
Do Not Worship Adolescence
It should be plainly evident to all of us that we’re living in a culture that celebrates youthfulness and despises the aged. A trip down the cosmetics section in the supermarket will reveal many products designed to take away gray hair, smooth out wrinkles, and make the body look and feel young. Any trip through a major city will certainly reveal our culture’s love for shopping malls. When we examine the stores in the malls, the overwhelming majority are centered on young people who linger in the atrium of the mall for social purposes with their friends or gather for coffee and entertainment outlets such as theaters—largely designed to entertain young people. The men’s clothing or women’s clothing stores are few and far between these days because—quite simply—the profit margins simply don’t compare.
This cultural shift leaves much of the focus of our society centered on youth—and that spills right over into the context of the local church as well. We often hear much talk about how we have to focus on the youth of the church because they’re the next generation of members and leaders. While we certainly need to invest in young people and children within our church—the lack of respect for the elderly in society as well as within the church has done far more than remove men’s clothing and men’s shoe stores from the front street of our communities. It has likewise affected how we worship. In many evangelical churches, the worship is designed around the young people rather than adults—resulting in a concert with a sermonette attached to it or in some cases the feel is more like a VBS for adults—complete with all of the light-hearted entertainment and canned jokes.
Paul, in his words to the church at Ephesus, implores them to strive for maturity as God has given them leaders for that very purpose (Eph. 4:12). While there is nothing inherently sinful by shopping malls turning to the teens for profit margins—the church of Jesus Christ would do well to celebrate maturity and gospel-centered wisdom that comes with age. This is one reason for the title of the office of elder—driving home the point that wisdom is needed in order to properly lead God’s people theologically and spiritually. Fools despise wisdom (Prov. 1:7). We’re living in strange days to be sure, days when immaturity is championed among a culture demonstrating just how much wisdom is needed in the end. This, to be sure, is a tragedy. Remember what happened to Rehoboam when he despised the wisdom of the old men and gave his ear to the immature voices of the young men (1 Kings 12:8)?
Our culture and our churches are filled with wise older men and women who are overlooked because of their age. Gray is not proof of wisdom, but it would do us well not to view gray as outdated, expired, or irrelevant. Once upon a time young men wanted to look old. Today, old men want to look young while young men never want to grow up. Fashion may change, but it’s the heart that truly matters. May the Lord grant us wisdom and enable us to value the wise and aged among us in the life of the church in such a way that creates stability and maturity among God’s people.
Proverbs 4:7 — The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.