Experience is Not Enough

I understand that discussions on the relationship between the young and old are sensitive. In our society, they are often pitted against one another. It is young vs. old or even inexperienced vs. experience. Scripture even recognizes the tension that exists between the young and the old, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father . . . women as mothers” (1 Tim 5:1–2). With that said, I want to be respectful as I cover this topic. I fully realize that I am on the younger end of the spectrum. I have heard my share of criticisms like “you’ll learn when you get older,” “just give it time and you’ll see,” and “I have a lot of experience with this kind of stuff and you’ll learn.”

In humble response, the Scriptures teach that experience is not the final authority. Scripture says that foolishness is a characteristic that may actually be reinforced with time, “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction” (Ecc 4:13, emphasis added). It is possible to grow in one’s stubborn character over time. Years and years of stubbornness compound, encourage, and reinforce bad habits.

Often times, the appeal to experience is a punt or excuse of biblical literacy and authority. Someone begins to scrounge for a source of authority and when they cannot make an appeal to the final authority of Scripture they cling to their experience. According to Ecclesiastes 4:13 the old king is foolish because he is described as someone who cannot receive instruction. Here, the foolish person does not know how to submit to instruction. Instruction assumes instructor and in instructor implies someone is instructed. This position, of the instructed, requires humility and recognition of proper authority. This is what makes an appeal to experience (and not Scripture) so dangerous, because it reinforces pride and rebellion.

On the other wide, younger people think they have nothing to learn from the previous generation. The method and world the previous generation lived in is outdated and irrelevant. Just as much as pride is found among the old, it is equally found among the young and naïve. There is the temptation to believe that the new is always better than the old. Therefore, younger people can ignore the counsel of the previous generation.

Despite the tension and opposing attitudes between the old and the young there is an equalizer that brings the two sides together—Scripture. The Bible and its objective teaching on life levels the playing field between the two camps. The “right” side to be on is the biblical side. For the old, their experiences are validated or corrected by Scripture. For the young, their novel ways of living are challenged by Scripture where they are also validated or corrected. In the end of the day, obedience matters most. The advantage is not given to the old/experienced or the young/new, but the advantage is given to the humble and obedient.

This principle is seen in Psalm 119:100, “I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts” (v. 100). The aged refers to the elders and represents wisdom. The foundation for this reality is the author’s obedience, “because I have observed Your precepts.” This passage makes readers aware of our priority.

In life and ministry there are many competing voices. Thanks to social media opinions are shared and accessible in ways previous generations have never seen. Someone will have something to say about what your church should look like, how to raise your kids, how to choose a spouse, how to pick a major, where to buy a house, and so on and so forth! This should drive the Christian to faithfully turn to Scripture over and over again. As people blog, tweet, and post their advice remember that its only good if it is biblical. It’s not about experience, it’s about obedience.

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