What does the Bible teach about caring for older parents?
One of the first actions of the early church was to arrange for the care of those in need. James wrote, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).
Christians whose family members were in need were expected to meet those needs. First Timothy 5:3–4 instructs, "Honor widows who are truly widows. 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." A few verses later, in verse 8, a person's faith is tied to their care for those in their household: "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."
One of the Ten Commandments God gave Israel is: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." Ephesians 6:2–3 restates this commandment and calls attention to the attached positive consequence of honoring our parents: "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land" (Ephesians 6:3).
There is no question that Christians are to honor their parents and to care for them. Sometimes caring for older parents can seem like a burden. But in truth, it is a privilege. In caring for older parents we can return the gift of their care for us as children. If our parents did not care for us well, then caring for older parents is an opportunity to demonstrate God's unmerited love and grace. Either way, caring for older parents is something God calls us to and is a way to serve and glorify Him.
Care for our elderly parents will look different in different situations. For some it might be helping with home maintenance or yardwork or certain errands. For others it might include giving financial help or helping make financial, legal, or medical decisions. For others it might involve an older parent living in your home. Some older parents might prefer to live in a retirement community or have medical needs that can only be met in a nursing home. When this is the case, we are responsible to ensure our parent is receiving appropriate care. We should also not neglect to visit our parents. Even if living independently, most older parents appreciate their children making the effort to keep in touch. In short, caring for older parents means having a willing heart to meet their specific need as best as you are able in a way that honors God. It also means showing active love for parents and taking the initiative to help meet their physical and emotional needs.
Some older parents are more difficult than others—either emotionally or in their physical needs. It is not inappropriate to set boundaries on caregiving for older parents, but it is wrong to neglect their actual needs. Galatians 6:2–5 says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load." We can reach out to the body of Christ to help us as we care for older parents. Others who have cared for older parents are often equipped with helpful resources and wise advice. Of course, we should also seek wisdom from God through prayer (James 1:5). It is ultimately God who will equip us to care for our older parents and walk alongside us as we do.
We should not let the cares of the world, the striving for material or worldly gain, supersede or interrupt loving and serving God by loving and serving others, especially those in our own family. Rather than seeing caring for older parents as a drudgery, we should see it as a gift from God. It is an opportunity to share His love. And it may very well be a precious time of connection with your parent that you will treasure after he or she is gone.
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