“Paul the Aged”

By P J. Casebolt

When the apostle referred to himself as “Paul the aged” (Phile. 9), it is not known just how old Paul was. But we do know that Paul was older at this writing than he was when he consented to Stephen’s death as a destroyer of the faith, and when he first began preaching the gospel. But Paul was old enough to fit into the category of “the aged.”

Age is a relative thing. Some who qualify for the age bracket of senior citizens can still run circles around couch potatoes of the younger generation. Or, physical handicaps can alter the life-styles of both young and old. And some of our social customs such as Social Security and Medicare have affected our thinking with respect to younger and older preachers.

When comparing the work of older and younger preachers, we would do well to define the term “work.” As an apostle, Paul “labored more abundantly” than did the other apostles (1 Con 15:10). Paul admonished Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), and no one could deny that Paul himself was devoted wholly to preaching the gospel. Yet, Paul spent some of his time making tents and some of it in prison. At the time Paul wrote his epistle to Philemon, he was “a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”

Civil laws have been enacted to discourage the practice of age discrimination, yet those of us in the church are sometimes guilty of discrimination against both the young and the aged. But I am not about to go to law before the unbelievers to settle any perceived cases of age discrimination in the church. If we cannot effectively harness the abilities of workers in the Lord’s vineyard, we certainly cannot expect the world with its sectarian religious systems to do it for us.

Preachers need to consider the possibility that some brethren will discriminate against aged preachers, and that older preachers will naturally be affected by the same conditions which affect all people who are fortunate enough to live a long time. But there always has been, there is now, and there always shall be enough work in the Lord’s vineyard to keep all busy who want to stay busy and are able to do the work.

An aged preacher may (or may not) be limited physically and/or mentally in doing the work of an evangelist. But this may be true of preachers at any age. Brethren tell me that they see and hear younger preachers who are not able to organize or deliver a sermon which makes any sense. Aged preachers may not be as mentally alert as they once were, and yet they have a vast storehouse of knowledge and experience which can benefit the church. And younger preachers need to be given the opportunity to gain experience, yet are often discriminated against be-cause they don’t have it. I have been on both ends of this age spectrum, but thankfully, the Lord and enough brethren have combined to keep me busy.

Some congregations furnish houses for preachers and some do not. There are advantages and disadvantages with both arrangements. Geographically and economically, some areas are not conducive to the buying or selling of real estate, either on a short or long-term basis. The same is true of rental property.

While it may be more convenient in some situations for a preacher not to become entangled in real estate transactions every few years, preachers (and brethren) need to consider where the preacher is going to live when he be-comes “Paul the aged.” Most houses owned by churches are neither built nor intended as retirement homes for preachers. And a preacher or his widow may not want to spend the rest of their days in a given community anyway.

I know of a small congregation which built a house for an aged preacher and his wife, with the assurance that either or both of them could live there as long as they wished. Of course, some of the local members share the teaching duties when necessary, the aged preacher’s talents are not wasted, and an aged worker doesn’t have to worry about being evicted in favor of a younger preacher.

Some younger preachers need to prepare to support themselves, so that they can preach where they are needed, preach what needs to be preached (sound doctrine), and still discharge their duties toward their families. They can still engage in our sometimes ambiguous definition of “full-time preaching” if the occasion requires such, while at the same time keeping themselves “free from all men” (1 Cor. 9:19). One cannot serve either his Lord or his brethren as he should unless he is free to preach the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27).

Some congregations have a better concept of what it means to support the gospel than they did when I began to preach. And some preachers now are better trained and prepared than were some who preached fifty years ago. Yet, I find more of “a famine in the land” among church members in general when it comes to a working knowledge of the Bible than I did fifty years ago. Too many brethren have hired a preacher to do their studying, visiting, teaching, and the offering of other spiritual sacrifices for them, and have become illiterate even in the first principles of the oracles of God. And it may be that some preachers love to have it that way so that they can teach anything they want to teach (or nothing at all), and the brethren either won’t know the difference or won’t care.

A final word of advice and exhortation to preachers: When we accept the responsibility and privilege of preaching the gospel, we need also to accept any sacrifice, persecution, or hardship that goes with it (Mark 10:30; Phil. 1:29). That principle is the same for any child of God, for “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord” (Matt. 10:24).

In the first century, the gospel was “preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Col. 1:23), and this was accomplished in spite of persecution from without the church and problems within the church. Some have concentrated their teaching and efforts toward the care of needy saints (and even the world), to the neglecting of preaching the gospel and edifying the church. Some have turned the preaching of the gospel over to human missionary societies/institutions, thereby supplanting the church in the very work and mission it was designed and commissioned to do. Division has neutralized or destroyed our efforts to preach the gospel to the unbeliever.

Instead of becoming adversarial in our attitudes toward congregations and preachers, the young and the old, we need to remember that we are “workers together with him” (2 Cor. 6:1), “that the word of the Lord may have free course” (2 Thess. 3:1).

Guardian of Truth XLI: 7 p. 10-11
April 3, 1997