Merriam-Webster defines ageism as “prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group.” Although ageism can target any age-group, the discrimination is usually aimed at those of more advanced years. Ageism can negatively affect a person’s job prospects, access to healthcare, and how that person and his or her thoughts and ideas are perceived.
Although ageism is a modern term not found in the Bible, Scripture still has much to say on the matter. First of all, we see that God’s Word condemns discrimination of any kind, particularly among believers. Jesus reveals that the greatest commands are to love the Lord with our whole hearts and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30–31). As believers, we are all equal in God’s eyes, with everyone deserving the same respect (see Galatians 3:27–28; James 2:2–4). The Lord Himself “shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).
There are also biblical principles that specifically address ageism. The Bible teaches that elders are to be held in high esteem. Their age is not seen as a negative but as something that distinguishes them due to the wisdom they have gleaned over the years. The elders teach the younger generation (see Titus 2:3–4); the whole book of Proverbs is presented as a father’s instruction to his son (see Proverbs 1:8). “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31), and “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 20:29). To learn from a righteous elderly person is an honor and a privilege.
When God gave the Law to His people, He instructed Moses to tell them, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19:32). It seems that respecting one’s elders went hand-in-hand with respect for the Lord Himself. Children of any age will find this command in Proverbs: “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). First Timothy 5:1–2 encourages believers to treat older men and women as fathers and mothers, which we can tie to God’s command in Exodus 20:12 to honor our fathers and mothers. The Bible provides no leeway for disrespect of the elderly, regardless of their age or what faculties they still possess.
We are also not to neglect the care of the elderly: “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. . . . Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). Even in His agony on the cross, Jesus made arrangements for His mother’s care, asking His disciple John to take her in as his own mother (John 19:26–27).
Discrimination against the elderly is not the only ageism addressed in the Bible. Paul instructs the relatively young Timothy on the importance of setting a good example: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” During His ministry, Jesus held up children as the standard for the type of faith, purity, and humility we should seek (Matthew 18:2–4).
From all of this we can see that ageism is counter to God’s commands to believers. Ageism may be increasing in our culture as beauty, youth, and worldliness are prized, but we can fight against it and stand as an example through our own respect and care for people of any age.