Editor’s note: Church China is one of the most widely read Christian publications in mainland China and is an excellent glimpse into the life and discussions of the urban Chinese house church. Its bi-monthly magazine focuses on different topics concerning the church and theology and is widely read among house church pastors and lay leaders.
This is the first in a three-part essay examining how Christians ought to care for their aging parents. In this first part, the author examines what scripture says regarding honoring parents and how the gospel ought to transform our attitudes toward eldercare. Check back in the coming weeks to read the second and third portions.
This article has been translated and republished with permission. If you read Mandarin, you can access the original article here.
An article by Yanwu Liu titled “The Calmness and Tragedy of Elderly Suicides in Villages” recently garnered much attention in society. The author, a lecturer at Wuhan University’s Department of Sociology, is the project director of the “Sociological Research on Elderly Suicides in Villages” initiative sponsored by the National Social Science Fund of China. The problem of eldercare exposes the corruption and wickedness of the world, and this problem is not something Christians can avoid. The pressures and problems Christians face do not decrease because of their faith in Christ. But how can Christians seek to care for their elderly parents according to God’s will without being controlled by secular ideas and selfish desires due to their own sin and the pressures of the real world? By disobeying the clear teachings that God has given us on this matter, we miss out on the blessings God has promised and on opportunities to testify to the Lord. Will we, because we are not yet elderly, intentionally or unintentionally neglect the needs of our elderly parents and pretend that everything will stay the same? How should we seek and submit to God’s will in the gospel in the midst of this present reality?
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For this reason, this article seeks to examine, first of all, God’s good will toward us in making us honor our parents while also pointing out and examining the consequences of our rebelling against God’s word. In this way we will confront God’s purposes in the midst of our repentance. In the second section we will specifically reflect on the needs of our parents and how children can honor their parents according to God’s will. In the third section we will analyze how to take care of the elderly in some specific situations while attempting to provide suggestions.
I hope that this article will lead brothers and sisters to reflect on questions of eldercare and will stir them up to consciously and actively care for the parents God has given them according to his will. “The trees long for calmness, but the wind is unceasing; the children long to care for their parents, but they are no longer around.” It is not a distant truth that our parents are aging. May all of us, through the gospel, obey God’s word with a heart of gratitude while our parents are still around, that our blessings may be bountiful in this life and the next and that the name of the Lord may be praised.
1. The Good Will of God
First, let us look at several passages of the Bible concerning how to treat the elderly so that we may understand God’s benevolent will and promises.
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”
1 Timothy 5:4
The Bible here informs us that “showing godliness” toward our parents is “making some return” to them. “For” signifies reason, grounds, and motivation. The motivation here for learning to show godliness and making some return to our parents is not based on some general moral code but on our relationship with God – it is a pleasing action in the sight of God.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'”
The key points here are as follows: 1) We must obey our parents “in the Lord,” which is to say that because we belong to the Lord, obeying our parents in the context of our relationship with the Lord is pleasing to him (cf. Col. 3:20). The Lord explicitly promises blessings for obeying our parents. (cf. Ex. 20:12).
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
1 Timothy 5:8
This passage is a negative statement saying that those who neglect their household displease the Lord, and this is not a good testimony to unbelievers (cf. 1 Tim. 5:14).
“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death… Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”
Exodus 21:15, 17
Here we see that God is pleased when men honor their parents, but he hates it when men look down upon, mistreat, disgrace, or strike their parents (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1).
To summarize these points, God’s will for us toward our parents, especially toward our elderly parents, is that we ought to: 1) take care of them; 2) respect them; 3) confront and reflect upon these issues in the context of our relationship with God in order to please him; 4) believe in the promise of blessing; 5) do this as a witness for the Lord.
Why does God care so much about how we treat our parents?
First of all, children are entrusted to parents by God, and the authority that the parents have comes from God. Thus, if anyone despises and rebels against their parents, they are rebelling against God (Deut. 21:18). Secondly, parents are the means by which God blesses children, and we ought to be grateful for them. When we are respectful and thankful toward our parents, it is a sign of gratefulness to God, who cares for us through our parents. If not for the care of our parents, we would not have lived to this day, nor would we be able to trust in the Lord.
Moreover, the Bible often uses the parent-children relationship to express the relationship between God and his people. Thus, we can experience something of God’s parent-like heart in our relationship with our parents (Luke 11:11; Isa. 49:15). Lastly, our parents are precious souls in the eyes of God, and they are the “neighbor” that God has placed beside us. We ought to love and honor them. If we cannot love these relatives whom we can see, then we cannot love God whom we cannot see.
God’s will is entirely good, but because man in his sin disobeyed God’s word, he forfeited God’s blessings and inevitably brought many disastrous consequences upon the earth. We can see a number of these disastrous consequences.
First, rebelling against authority has become an ordinary, even reasonable, thing to do. People tragically boast about opposing their parents or abandoning them.
Secondly, there is an abundance of complaining and bitterness. Children are not grateful for their parents, nor do they respect them. Instead, they use an excessively high standard to criticize their parents and believe they have been “hurt” by them. Even Christians often evaluate their relationship with their parents based on the harm caused by the family they grew up in. They invariably condemn their parents, complaining with bitterness in their hearts. The Israelites continually complained in much the same way as they wandered in the desert for forty years, but in the sight of God this was greatly rebellious.
Thirdly, familial bonds have been destroyed by pragmatic thinking. People have become more and more self-centered in their relationships so that even their parents are treated as utilities. Children no longer think about how to repay their parents, but only about how to take advantage of their parents’ “surplus value.” As their parents’ surplus value decreases more and more, they secretly begin to despise them. This pragmatism is the main reason why many elderly parents commit suicide in villages.
Fourthly, there is hypocrisy. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees as hypocrites because they took what should have been used to care for their parents and considered it as “corban” (an offering to God), thus turning their irresponsibility toward their parents into a kind of moral superiority.
Fifthly, people treat caring for parents as a heavy burden. If a person’s motivation for caring for his parents does not proceed from a gratitude for God’s salvation and for his parents’ care for him, if he does not have the heart to witness for the Lord, and if he does not believe in the promises and blessings of God, then he will easily treat caring for his parents as a heavy burden and run from it.
All of these things result from despising and straying from God’s good word. But as Christians who have been given the great grace of salvation in Jesus Christ, we should strive to discern secular ideas, to war against the sins of our flesh, and to confront and reflect on God’s will through the gospel. May the Lord lead us to repentance and back to his will. Because the Lord died for us on the cross and forgave all our sins, making us children of God and giving us the eternal hope of the Kingdom of Heaven, we ought to support our parents with hearts full of gratitude, relying on and trusting in his promises as we testify to the name of our Savior Christ. God will remember our faithfulness and bless us. There are many beautiful testimonies like this around us, for example the elderly couple Yue Han and De Xin, who shared the article “The Grace We Received in Honoring our Parents.” It has brought great inspiration and encouragement to us.
The Bible wants us to “honor our parents” and to serve “in the Lord,” which means that we cannot depend on ourselves but must learn humbly in Christ under the guidance of God’s word. After thus understanding the perfectly good will of God, we should then think more specifically about the needs of our parents and about how we as children should bear this responsibility entrusted to us by God.
English translation provided by Moses, Brent, and the China Partnership translation team. Please refer to our reposting guidelines for permission to share on your blog or website.