What Did God Mean by ‘Respect Your Elders’?

When God tells us to respect our elders, He is telling us to treat them with kindness and compassion. Being courteous can go a long way and show the elder that you do genuinely respect them and care about them.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jan 18, 2022
What Did God Mean by ‘Respect Your Elders’?

Respecting your elders is something all young people must do throughout their lives. Disrespecting elders is wrong and should not be practiced by Christians. The Bible tells us many times about the importance of respecting our elders; however, it is up to us to put it into action. Before we take action, we have to first know what God meant when He told us to respect our elders.

What Is the Meaning of Respect?

Elders can refer to anyone who is older than you. The Bible specifically and repeatedly tells us to respect our elders (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:1-3). Parents, grandparents, and other people who are older than you should be treated with respect.

When God tells us to respect our elders throughout the different passages of the Bible, He means that we should treat them with kindness, compassion, and gravitas. We should never belittle, hurt, or bully elders.

Talking back or being argumentative with an elder is not biblical either. It is fine to have different opinions; however, respect still needs to be shared between the two parties. Even if an elder is not always polite and respectful to you does not mean you have the right to be disrespectful to them.

We are to treat all people with kindness, love, and respect. Jesus tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated (Luke 6:31; Matthew 7:12). This applies to all people — young, middle-aged, or old. All people deserve respect and kindness.

Respecting your elders can be hard for some people especially if they come from a background of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. It is worth noting that respecting your elders does not mean undergoing abuse or harassment.

Respecting an elder does not mean they have the right to do anything they want to or say hurtful things to you. Abuse, whether physical, emotional, or verbal, is never okay.

Respecting Your Elders

God wants us to care about our elders. He has placed elders in our lives to help give us wisdom, guidance, and direction. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” Rather than believing an elder’s idea is “outdated” or “old school,” we should seek out and listen to the advice of our elders.

We should respect our elders because this is what is right and commanded by God. He had commanded us to care for our elders. If we disrespect our elders, we are disrespecting God. The right thing to do is to respect our elders and show genuine kindness to them.

There are many different ways of how we can respect our elders. Some ways to respect our elders are to listen to them, speak kindly with them, and be considerate of them (Ibid.). A disrespectful person would talk over their elders, ignore their elders, or argue with their elders.

Even if you do not agree with everything an elder says to you, you still need to treat them with respect. Two people can disagree and yet still remain respectful of one another. Subtle ways of showing respect for elders are to hold the door open for them, offer to help carry their groceries, or listen to them as they tell a story from their childhood.

Be polite, kind, and softhearted to your elders. This will make God happy and leave you with a joyful feeling in your own heart. Treating others with respect will result in other people treating you with respect back. When we think of elders, we often think of only elderly adults.

However, as previously mentioned, elders can include any person who is older than you, including not only your grandparents, but also your parents, older siblings, professors, teachers, older bosses, pastors, or the leader of your Bible group (Ibid.). Elders can be male or female despite the stigma that elders only include males.

Examples from the Bible

David was declared to be a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). As a man after God’s own heart, he extended respect to his elders even though he did not always receive respect back. Saul was the first king of Israel, and he did not follow God’s commands.

Rather than obeying God’s commands, Saul followed what he thought was the best course of action. While being actively pursued by Saul, David had a chance to kill Saul, yet David did not kill Saul (1 Samuel 24).

David showed respect for Saul, who was his elder and the Lord’s anointed at the time. Shortly thereafter, David became the King of Israel. This is one example of the importance of extending respect to your elders. David treated Saul with respect because it was the right thing to do.

Once David had a chance to kill Saul, he could have; however, he chose to respect Saul and not to kill him (Ibid.). An example from the New Testament about respecting your elders is found in the person of Timothy. Timothy was a young man when Paul first started meeting with him and grew to become a faithful follower of Christ.

He was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Eunice and Lois were Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who helped teach him about the scriptures (2 Timothy 1:1-5; 3:15). Timothy respected his elders and it helped him learn about God and His Word.

In the same way, Timothy respected Paul, who was his elder, and obeyed Paul’s instructions. Rather than listening and obeying to his mother, grandmother, and Paul, Timothy could have been disrespectful and rebellious towards his elders.

However, Timothy chose to do the right thing and chose to respect his elders. Timothy went on to lead a church and helped many people come to know the Lord as their Savior. Great things can happen when we respect our elders.

Once we get into the habit of respecting our elders by treating them with kindness, compassion, and gravitas, it will become second nature to us. If you are having a hard time respecting your elders, you can ask for God’s help and He will come to your side.

For some people, respecting your elders can sound like an impossible task, but it does not have to be if we ask for God’s help and His guidance from the Holy Spirit. Whenever you feel tempted to talk back, argue, or disrupt an elder, choose to respect them even if it is hard.

Treat them as you would like them to treat you. Even if the elder does not communicate kindly back, you can still choose to remain calm and kind. Remember that each time you choose to respect your elders, it fills God with happiness.

What Does This Mean?

Therefore, when God tells us to respect our elders, He is telling us to treat them with kindness, compassion, and genuine gravitas. You can start treating elders with respect today. Even in small ways, such as holding the door open or being courteous can go a long way and show the elder that you do genuinely respect them and care about them.

Choose today that you will respect your elders just as God commands. The Lord truly knows best and respecting your elders is one of the best things you can do. In everything, treat others the way you want to be treated whether they are older or younger than you. Every person deserves genuine respect and kindness.

For further reading:

How All Generations Can Be a Part of the Church

How Can Believers Be Both Blessed and a Blessing to Others?

7 Biblical Grandparents and the Amazing Lessons They Teach Us

Who Are Lois and Eunice in the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/DisobeyArt

Vivian BrickerVivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.


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