We all make mistakes…including those who are older than us. While we all feel it is relatively easy to correct a younger person, admonishing an older one can be a pretty challenging feat.
One of the reasons we feel a bit apprehensive admonishing an elder is because of the automatic assumption that they are naturally wiser than younger persons. But this is not always the case. A person who doesn’t learn in his younger years how to reason and reflect upon all the probable consequences for his decisions, will most likely end up becoming an old, imprudent fool.
But before we unduly judge an older person as an imbecile, we should first act wisely by considering the reasons that are compelling us to exhort him or her. Lord Jesus taught us that before we seek to remove the speck of sawdust out of our brother’s eye, that we should first seek to remove the plank that is in ours. (Matthew 7:5)
If our motive for correcting an elder is cemented upon love and sincere concern for the betterment of relationships within the Church of God, then exhorting an elder is meet and right. On the other hand, if our motive springs from feelings of discordant pride and resentment, then it would be best to sincerely PRAY to ask God for the ability to forgive, as he has forgiven us through Jesus Christ. But after a short season, if you have not been able to overcome your discordant feelings- then you might have to get a third party involved that can serve as an impartial mediator. If this is the case, then you must be willing to submit to the mediator’s instructions, whether you agree with them or not.
The standard of how to treat an elder is rooted upon the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12)
Dr. Martin Luther explains this commandment in his Small Catechism with the following instruction: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
One cannot exhort older persons without first seeing them through the lens of respect and honor for their life-experience. Yet respect and consideration is not enough…one must also consider as to whether we love and cherish the person that we are thinking about exhorting. Correction that is based on anger only broods more discontent. (Proverbs 13:10)
B. There’s a big difference between REBUKING and EXHORTING.
Although we oftentimes confuse the two, there is a big difference between rebuking and exhorting. The Apostle Paul specifically instructs Pastor Timothy to not rebuke an older man but to exhort him.
There is a proper time for rebuking a person(s)- and even though its one of the most uncomfortable aspects of the Gospel, it certainly is part of the Pastoral Ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; Titus 3:10) When Christian leaders (symbolic elders) and their followers remain resolutely determined to not fulfill their missional and disciplic duties, (and after all other means of exhortation have been exhausted), then it is the obligation of the Pastor as the head steward of the church, to sharply criticize the behaviors that are serving as stumbling blocks for the church’s mission.
On the other hand, if the older person is falling into unplanned patterns of behavior that are detrimental for the overall health of the congregation, or his/her personal life, then one must come to them in all humility and grace- treating them as if they were better than ourselves.
Philippians 2:3 (ESV)- Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
When St. Paul instructs us to “exhort” an older person as a parent, he is using the Greek word: παρακαλέω (parakale-o), which interestingly is used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit as our legal Counselor, Advisor and Comforter. (John 14:16-17; 15:26) The Greek word translated as “exhort,” literally means someone who stands close by as a friend offering intimate advice for the benefit of the person.
In other words, when exhorting an older person, we must do so in imitation of the way in which the Holy Spirit deals with us. Every Christian that is sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit will attest to the fact that after a commotion of emotions and bad decisions, that God will gently whisper into our hearts and through the medium of consciences. When he does this, the Holy Spirit will not only tell us that we’re wrong…he will also show us why we’re wrong, and what we should do in order to remedy the situation.
When a person makes it a habit of ignoring the exhortations of the Holy Spirit, his or her heart becomes hardened and insensitive to the Spirit’s promptings. This is what the Bible refers to as having “seared consciences.” (1Tim. 4:2; Eph. 4:19)
My Pastor-Teacher, the Reverend Rafael Fraguela, taught his disciples that whenever we are going to exhort someone, that we should use the “2 for 1” method. Meaning, that every criticism should be preceded by 2 or 3 sincere expressions of appreciation for the person’s accomplishments and good qualities.
This methodology not only serves as a safety net that will keep us from falling into undue rebuking, it also serves to remind us that the person we have in front of us is a human being, who like ourselves, is filled with the common pains, shortcomings, fears, and disappointments that mold us all. The “2 for 1” method also helps to remind the person we are exhorting that we sincerely love and appreciate her, and that it is from that position of love, that we are offering our counsel.
A Biblical example of the “2 for 1” method is found in the messages that Christ Jesus sent to the 7 churches of Asia Minor through St. John (Apocalypse 2-3) and in the introductory remarks in St. Paul’s letters.
The most important part of the “2 for 1” method is SINCERITY! If you don’t truly admire some of the qualities of the person, then it would be best to keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 17:28)
Proverbs 12:15 (ESV) The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
D. Be aware of your non-verbal communications, including body postures.
For instance, when a person has been talking to you for a while and you need to cut the conversation, an easy way to communicate this is to beginning to look at a nearby clock or wrist watch. If the person is attentive, he or she will understand that you must begin cutting the conversation.
When exhorting a person that is older than you, it is important to communicate with our gestures that we are conscious of their higher status than ourselves. One should never “stand-over” an older person, but rather, one should sit down and use gestures of submission and openness.
One perfect example of this was evident during the last meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. When the Prime Minister of Israel spoke to President Obama before the journalists, he made sure to convey through postures and gestures that, even though he had disagreements with Obama, that he was coming to him as a superior.
If you look at the picture- (and watch the video at the link below) you will see how during the conversation, Netanyahu clearly lowers his shoulders in a posture of vulnerability, while lowering his gaze in a gesture of humility.
Netanyahu oftentimes opened the palms of his hands as a non-verbal cue that he was being completely open and sincere. By comparison, Obama was communicating a stance of superior leadership. Obama nodded his head and closed his eyes slowly on several occasions in order to convey that he was receiving Netanyahu’s expressions, but not without falling back into his habit of communicating a sense of superiority by means of a stern face and an overly erect posture.
To make matters worse, the public conversation was suddenly cut by Obama’s timing of a pause in Netanyahu’s words… which clearly indicated that Obama’s ego had been publicly satisfied and that he was ready to go back to business.
When it comes to exhorting an older person, the most important thing to remember is this: God makes no exception of persons- he loves us all equally, and expects for us ALL to treat one another in the same way that He would treat us.