Am I a “Know It All” or a Learner?

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One of the characteristics of youth is a feeling of invincibility. The young feel as though they will live forever. The reality of the transitory nature of life has not dawned upon them as yet. “As for man, his days are like grass…for the wind passes over it and it is gone.” (Psalm 103:15, 16). An understanding of the certainty that each of us has but a finite number of days to live is truth that is hard for the young to grasp just because they are young.

The Bible places a great deal of value on age (“elder,” “older woman,” etc.), because wisdom—the practical application of spiritual knowledge—is generally directly proportional to the number of years lived. One of the tragedies of youth is often ignorance of this fact, and henceforth, along with the sense of invincibility, is a cockiness somewhat akin to the 16 year-old car driver—just enough experience to be no longer properly afraid. 

As a young man of thirty, I was firmly convinced that I knew most of what was really important to know. I had been an enthusiastic evangelist on the college campus for seven years, and had learned to answer the objections and excuses college students had about the Christian faith so well that I was confident that I would never embarrass myself as I talked to students about the Lord. 

I had presented the gospel at meetings in fraternity and sorority houses and other living groups on campus, and had seen students respond. I was somewhat scornful of older pastors who did the boring, mundane work of caring for a flock in a church, because they were not “on the front lines” like I was, and, even though I didn’t say as much, I didn’t think there was anything much they could possibly have taught me. I desired to serve the Lord with all my heart, but I was too ignorant and arrogant in my youth to have learned to appreciate the value of the full-orbed ministry of the body of Christ. The Lord hadn’t taught me that lesson yet. 

Looking back today, from a fifty year vantage point, I am amazed and embarrassed at my attitude at that time. I didn’t even know enough to know that I didn’t really know much at all! I didn’t believe that Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…Now I know in part….,” applied to me.

As a relatively young Christian who had had a genuine experience with the Lord just a few short years earlier, I didn’t understand the value of experience that only comes with age. I was generally too busy talking to be quiet and listen and learn from those who were far more experienced than I. During the whole decade of my thirties, God gave me that “opportunity” to sit down and shut up, for which I am eternally grateful.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 to “let no man despise your youth,” has been taken to mean, probably mostly by young people themselves, “don’t let anyone hold you back just because you’re young.” But is that what Paul means?

In context, yes, Timothy was to teach as Paul’s apostolic representative, not neglecting his gift (vs.13), but in so doing he was to be careful to be an example by his conduct (vs. 12), including respect for older men and women (5:1), so that no one would feel he was arrogant, and not mature enough for the job Paul had given him to do. In other words, don’t let anyone despise your youth because you are too pretentious and self-important to realize that you don’t know as much as you think you do! Looking back, I can see that I had fallen into that trap by age 30.

Character flaws, like arrogance, are a part of all of our lives, especially when we are young, and even being an old codger is no guarantee that the Lord has smoothed off those rough edges in our lives.  However, with the young, we can know for sure that He is just beginning and hasn’t had much time yet to do the job. 

On the other hand, Proverbs 31 tells us that the woman we have been studying in this chapter for the past few weeks is an older woman who has been through the wars and learned the necessary lessons. How so?

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (vs. 26). She has lived long enough to overcome the self-centeredness and brashness of youth, and has acquired wisdom, with its companion character quality, kindness. She has something to say. She is ready to “open her mouth.”

Years ago, in getting acquainted with a member of the church we were a part of at the time, Jill was relating a bit of what her job had been in the Christian organization in which she had worked—speaking to girls about Jesus in their sororities and dormitories on college campuses. 

The response was perceptive, if indeed somewhat rude. “What did you think you had to say?” Jill realizes now that at that time in her life she really didn’t have a lot to say, but her new friend was not yet ready for the role of older woman herself, because the law of kindness was definitely not on her tongue!

It is characteristic of our society to not appreciate age as did the Hebrews, and as a result we often ignore those who have the most to tell us. Older women, who have pursued the Lord and his kingdom diligently throughout their lives, have had the time to experience the failures, pressures and difficulties that make their experiences valuable to younger women. 

They are treasures in the church, and the younger women miss a gold mine when they fail to honor, respect, and seek them out as those with genuine life and wisdom to share. They are the women’s Bible teachers, as they train the younger women in the qualities Paul instructs the older women to teach them: “That they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:4, 5). 

May the church learn to honor, value, and listen to those older women (and men) whose tread is worn, whose hair is gray, and who have recognized, acknowledged, repented of, learned from, and now are willing to share their mistakes, failures and sins with others. May our young women (and men) be eager learners.

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