Biblical retirement

Should a Christian save for retirement?

Over the last couple years my thoughts on retirement have changed a bit. A few years ago, my goal was to retire early and live the easy life. As I have grown in my walk with God, I have found that (my old self-indulgent idea of) retirement doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the Bible. That doesn’t mean we should be chopping logs 10 hours a day when we are 85, but that God has us down here for a purpose and a specific amount of time.

The truth is that God’s plan for us will keep us busy until we die. I don’t think that necessarily means employment until our last breath, but for some it very well could. If His plan is being fulfilled in our lives via our occupation, who are we to say when we are finished?

To save or not to save for retirement

Even though my mind has changed about retirement, I have not stopped saving in my retirement accounts. Regardless of whether or not I am employed full time when I am 70, why not be prepared financially? To me it seems like a much better idea to have cash in the bank, so that I can be free to do whatever God has for me to do.

The worst case scenario is that I have a big chunk of cash that has been earning interest for decades that I can give away to bless someone. To me, saving for retirement seems like a no-brainer.

Bible verses about retirement and resting

While the Bible doesn’t seem to have specific verses referring to retirement, it does point out the importance of rest. God, our creator, understands the value of rest and relaxation. That, of course, is why He created Sundays! To add to that…

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.  Mark 6:31

As far as my previous plans for retirement – the below passage from Luke pretty well summed up my plans. Needless to say, I am glad God showed me the error of my ways…

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12:16-21

The thing I have come to realize is that God created us to be in motion. You can use our muscles as an example. If they are not getting pushed, they become weaker. They grow only when they are stretched beyond comfort. Our brains function the same way. They need to be pushed in order to grow and when all pressure is eliminated they begin to atrophy.

This is why work is so beneficial for us. While it is difficult, it makes rest that much more pleasurable.

The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.  Eccl 5:12

It all comes back to stewardship

The bottom line with the whole retirement savings question is that as stewards we have a responsibility to do the best with what we have been given. Saving with retirement accounts like 401ks or IRAs is a great way to multiply the talents that we have been given. But, it is not the only way. Every person is going to have to give an account of their stewardship to God, so whatever that means for you individually is what you need to do.

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24 Comments
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  1. Bob,

    I think this is definitely an issue that a lot of American Christians need to face with a lot of prayer. The American ideal of retirement is not found anywhere in the Bible, and I think you’d be very hard-pressed to back it up with any Scripture at all.

    I also agree with you that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t save. There are many wise verses about the prudence of saving for the future. It makes sense to save for a time when you may not be able to work for the things you need.

    I’ve had to look at this closely in my life, especially since I’m a financial planner. Most of my job revolves around helping people plan for their retirement. Some are Christians and some are not, but almost all of them have the American ideal of retirement ingrained in their minds. Out of the 200+ clients I have worked with, I can only think of 1 or 2 that are really focused on using their retirement years in a way that glorifies God. I know other people in my life who have done this, but from a business perspective I just don’t see it much.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Paul,
    thanks for sharing your insight – I am glad you shared this since you are dealing face to face with so many people who make the “american retirement” their lifelong goal. I think God has something better than what a lot of people have planned ;)

  3. I think God’s plan for retirement (at least for what I invision for myself) is that we will have more time for volunteering, serving or missions opportunities. If we have been good stewards and have a comfortable savings, then we have the time and freedom to be available to serve. If you look at it from that point of view then saving for retirement is not in conflict at all with serving God.

  4. Shannon,
    well put – I agree.

  5. long-term unemployed

    What is God’s purpose for the long-term unemployed?

  6. long-term unemployed

    The economy clearly indicates that there are not nearly enough jobs available to employ everyone who wants to work.

    When people delay retirement, they are keeping an unemployed person out of work.

  7. joshua,
    thanks for sharing!

  8. Bob, I agree with your article with one glaring exception. As men we have the responsibility to look ahead and plan for our wife if we are unable to work or have passed on. 1 Tim 5:8 says we have denied the word of God if we do not provide (have a plan in advance). We see in Prov. 21:20 that only a fool consumes his paycheck just like in Jonah 1:17 where the great fish swallowed up the profit. We see where the wise (not the rich) save for the future. Again in Prov 22:3 and 27:12 a wise man plans ahead.

  9. Dan Kyzer

    Paul,
    It appears that retirement is similar to our worldview. It is founded mostly on presuppositions formed by the culture we find ourselves in. It is difficult to get the American Dream of Retirement separated from the act of Gloryfying God as members of His Kingdom.
    Dan K.

  10. Derrick V

    Bob, thanks for the insightful article. I think your depth of knowledge far exceeds the article. My plan is to be debt free. Free from mortgage, and any other debt. That way, I can serve God (Master) with all that I have and all that He has blessed me with, whenever, and where He wants me. I may be able to retire from man’s work, but my joy (strength) is in/from God’s work. “It is more blessed to give, than to receive” Col 3:23-24

    References: Rom 13:8, Pro 22:7, 1 Cor 7:23, Ex 36:1, Ex 35:30-35

  11. Joshua… thanks for the retirement Bible verses (Numbers 8:23-26). I was making a program for a Retirement celebration at our church and was looking for verses about retirement in the Bible. That is exactly what I was looking for. God Bless you!

  12. I agree Bob. I know many people who have retired from their working job only to use the 401K to support them on the mission field or help them devote 40 plus hours per week doing work at the church.

  13. Ben Lozano

    BRO, that is wisdom speaking right there. Great Word!!!

  14. Ed Wilson

    I am retiring 1/1/2011 and still would like to keep on going; however, I realize it is time for me to let go and let God take care of my retirement. I am retired military 1st in 1980 and will be retired Civil Service 2nd with 50 years total government service. It is hard for me to retire, but I have decided that I will contribute my time, service, and money as a violenteer. I have already checked into the base hospital here at Tinker AFB and I was informed that I would be more than welcome to help out. I undeerstand they can use all the help they can get. I am very thankful for my retirement and future provisions for my wife.

  15. If I do not “retire” from secular work and move full time into “church” work, then I have no right to retire. If I will not work, then I should not eat. The view is that “I have a right to retire”, or “I put my time in”, or, “I earned it”, etc., all of which are false. God clearly teaches us that we work. No where does he give us the green light to ever quit. Retirement is a worldly tradition. If we are able to work, then we must work. To say that I have enough money to retire means that I am willing to keep it for myself so I do not have to work. Keeping it for myself then means that I intentionally keep it from the poor, needy, church projects, etc. We replace that given money by “working”… The poor we will always have with us dictates that we can never convince ourselves that we ever have the right to withold earnings from them because of selfishness. From the sweat of our brow is forever. We should also never try and rationalize to ourselves that “well, I’ll just go do volunteer work” will somehow please the creator when we know full well that we are capable of continuing to earn for the work of the Lord.

  16. Kevin Boone

    Good site. I’ve been re-reading the teachings of Christ and have been looking at Matthew 6:19. The Greek Words seem to communicate that Jesus is saying not to “hoard” in a “horizontal” sense. The “horizontal” pictures stacking things up in storage. Also, the phrase “Lay not up” seems to mean to not “store up for future use.” The opposite of horizontal would be a perpendicular position of our material possessions, including money, where we can easily access it and use it for the Kingdom or allow others to do so. I’m a Seminary grad. but I’m not good with biblical languages. I’ve read credible scholars who say the horizontal aspect is found in this verse and that’s what Jesus meant for His hearers to visualize. Anyway, I trying to balance storing back substantial amounts of money with the urgent need for those dying each day of malnutrition, preventable diseases, etc, and more importantly, the money needed to send missionaries to also share the gospel, or fund our own traveling, missions, etc. I can see the wisdom in both emergency funds and mass amounts of retirement money, but it seems the emergency money is more Kingdom minded than loads of hoarding money through the years while the money is needed NOW! But even in Matthew chapter 6:19-34, it seems even having 5000$ in savings, for example only, isn’t necessary if we trust God will take care of us like He does the birds, etc. I’m at the place where my wife and I have a small emergency fund, but we have decided we are to spend God’s money now, while there is time left. I know there is other angles on this and I am seeking those. Grace and understanding to us all, Pastor Kevin Boone

  17. Bob, These are great thoughts — it has been something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. American Christianity needs to get down to what the Bible really says about money. Have you read Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream by David Platt? Excellent book!

    And I so agree with Pastor Kevin Boone’s comments. Thank you Pastor Boone. Both you and Bob have spoken such great truths to this web community. May we all Glorify God and be the best stewards we can be. All is His. Everything.

  18. Praise be to God for allowing me to be in a position to retire with sufficient resources to allow my family to proceed even in my absence. I’m torn and am glad to read the wise comments of those on this board. I have retired, but it happened as an after-thought. For many years I labored to be a productive part of society…trying to fill the squares that I thought would put me in good stead with the world. I stayed 29 years in the military, progressing up the ranks nicely from where I started. After retiring I taught middle school special education in an attempt to give back and provide a viable role-model for the disenfranchised kids. The public school system proved sadly disconnected with the emotional/academic requirements of kids that struggle and those that don’t. I decided to get out of the rat-race (with another retirement) and pursue a more purposeful life, since the money I have is more than enough to suit my needs. Pursuing these Earthly pursuits have put my personal life into disarray (divorce/separated from my kids) and has put me in a position of being unhappy with life in general. I have accomplished more than many, but still find true happiness illusive. To pursue money further, I feel, would approach over-indulgence and gluttony. So, to retire and do God’s work is a blessing as many of my friends have died of various diseases and maladies without fulfilling their Earthly goals. Pastor Boone has an interesting slant that speaks to the selfless pursuit of God’s bidding without being caught up in the rat-race/Earthly pursuits put before us. Being happy with what you have and looking to benefit those less fortune than yourself, that is the essence of God’s Intent. Larry

  19. Brian

    At a national/cultural level, we’re far too focused on “retirement.” To the point that it’s literally breaking the bank (aka dollar). A few commenters (who I assume from their stage in life are from the Boomer generation) speak of having 2 retirements (more specifically government pensions) in addition to the inevidable Social Security. I think that’s hoarding. Yes, they probably worked hard for it. But something isn’t right with the ‘system’ if it allows for someone not currently working to be paid more per month than many who are working full time… I think since we’re not correcting the error ourselves, God is working it out through our fiscal disarray.

  20. Retirement is a time to make the greatest difference in your life. It is not just a time to feed the geese, play golf all day, or have a continual party. Sure, you can cut back on the traditional nine to five work week and have some fun. However, your greatest contribution in life may come during the last chapters of life.

    You can get involved with the local school board, coach your local youth sports team, teach Sunday school, get involved in local politics, or mentor a local business leader. Use the life wisdom and skills that God gave you to make a difference for Christ and your community in the later stages of your life.

    The most direct reference in the Bible about the concept of retirement is found in Numbers 8:23-26 (NIV) : 23 The LORD said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

    The commentary of the NIV states: “After a Levite reached the mandatory retirement age of 50, he was still free to assist his younger co-workers but he was no longer to do the difficult work he had done in his prime”.

    I love this passage in the Bible. Retirement is a time to assist others by mentoring, helping, and coaching. You move from “doing” most of the everyday work to mentoring and coaching others. This means you use what you’ve learned through your life to help others in their journey to become better people and leaders in their respective areas of expertise.

    Retirement is also about helping others by sharing the life lessons you’ve learned through the school of hard knocks. It is a time to share your successes and failures with people who can benefit from your life experience. It is especially important to tell others where you messed up in life so they won’t make the same mistakes.

    Retirement may mean stepping down as “the expert” in your field of expertise to serve as a sage to the next up and coming leader. A sage is someone who “has been there and done that and now wants to help others do the same”.

    It is important to give back and not to give up in the last chapters of life. Fight for the God given potential in others. Help someone in need. Don’t give up on your kids. Keep your marriage alive. Stay in the battle. Go out swinging.

    You may retire from the normal work routine but you never retire from serving God. Retirement may just be your finest hour.

    Larry

  21. Stephen

    Bob,

    Thanks for your article. :) I too have been thinking a lot lately about whether retirement is biblical, and I am encouraged by your attitude and desire to ground your life in Scripture! One thing I wanted to add is that the parable of talents is not about money. Read in the context of the other parables that Jesus told before and after it, it is about truly loving God and persevering as per Matthew 24:45-51 to produce spiritual fruit in keeping with the saving faith described in James 2:14-26. Galatians tells us we cannot do what the guy with one talent did–mock God, living for the world and expect to receive eternal life (see Galatians 6:7-10). God’s not sending us to hell for not saving money (the guy with the one talent is metaphorically sent to hell). However the Bible *does* say that every branch that does not produce fruit will be cut off (see John 15). To anyone reading this comment I want to make clear that I’m *not* saying we’re saved by works–after all we have Ephesians 2:8-10, just to name one of many passages about faith and works–but a saving faith is evidenced by what we do as James says, and a work-less faith is likewise, as he indicates, *not* a saving faith. We’re saved by faith, but saving faith is manifest in our lives and actions! This is why in the parable of the sower (see e.g. Luke 8:1-15), only the good soil that produced a crop was described in positive terms by Jesus. The soil with thorns actually sounds frighteningly like the American version of much of the Church, particularly with regard to our view of money and things and our relationship toward God… So the parable of the talents is not about monetary stewardship. Which is something else I’ve been wondering about lately: is our notion of monetary stewardship biblical, or an excuse we made up to keep us from trusting God and giving freely? After all, Jesus told us in Luke 12:31-33 not to worry but sell our possessions and give to the poor (how many of us would sell a car or house or plot of land, or liquidate a 401K to give to the poor today…? In the early church, selling possessions and giving the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need was common practice, as documented in Acts 4-5). I think fear really keeps us from begin fully generous, from not regarding our possessions as our own as per Acts 4:32. It seems to me that we’re more concerned with keeping our money safe, while God seems to be more concerned (regarding money) with us not being concerned with money but being generous with it (e.g. Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:13-34). I’m still studying on all of these things, but wanted to share my thoughts on them. Thanks for the article, and God bless! :)

    -Stephen

  22. Hi,

    There is a retirement for Work, but there is no retirement for Service. As God’s people to understand the difference between Work and service.

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