When it comes to retirement, most Americans will tell you they dream of a day when they no longer have to go to work and can instead spend their time relaxing and answering to no one. The dream is so ingrained in our culture that young people just entering the workforce are willing to set aside money today for a goal that’s over 40 years down the road. While we all seem to be working toward the same American retirement dream, few have ever stopped to ask what God’s Word has to say about retirement.
Retirement is a concept that is not specifically addressed in the Bible. It’s not as if we can go to our concordance and just look up the word retirement and find scripture that lays out the details. Getting to the bottom of the issue takes a little more work. We have to gather scripture that speaks to the principles we can then apply to the idea of retirement. Most of these principles will come from the two key retirement components of work and saving. With a thorough understanding of those two topics, we can paint a pretty clear picture of a biblical retirement.
Principles of Work
I’ve already written on the biblical model of work, which you can read here. Below are a few highlights that will help us understand our topic of retirement.
- God modeled work for us, created us in His image and then gave us the command to work.
- Work is good. The curse of sin just made it more difficult.
- Work is to be enjoyed. “… everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).
- We glorify God through our work by serving and imitating Him.
- Work is a key component in helping the poor, either through providing jobs or by providing income that we can share with those in need.
- Laziness leads to poverty. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4) (NIV).
- Work is not something to be avoided and everyone who can work should work to provide for their family. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Principles of Saving
Saving is simply the act of not spending money today so we can have it available to spend at a later time. Saving can help us avoid going into debt in the future. For example, if we know the roof on our house is about to reach its life expectancy and we don’t save to replace it, we may be forced to borrow money to fix it when it starts leaking.
One of the motivations for saving is to provide for our family. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, “But 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.” Wisdom should tell us there will likely be a day when our age prevents us from being as productive as we are in our peak working years. We will slow down both physically and mentally, and eventually, many of us will no longer be able to provide a sufficient income for our families through work. If we fail to plan ahead for this time when we can no longer earn an income to provide for our families, we will be forced to rely on someone else or the government to meet our needs.
In an interview on this topic titled “Should I Invest for Retirement”, John Piper says, “Why should we assume that the post-working years should be provided for from heaven and the working years should be provided for from labor?”
While saving for retirement is a valid goal, it is also possible to save too much. We don’t want to hoard our money and risk the consequences that brings. We should always be assessing the need and once we have enough saved to meet that need, we can stop allocating money for that goal.
What Retirement Is Not
Before we take a look at what retirement should be, let’s start with what retirement should not be. The Bible paints a clear picture of what we should not expect retirement to look like.
Scripture gives us a clear example of a bad retirement plan with the Parable of the Rich Fool, found in Luke 12. We read of a man with a huge crop that was enough to supply him with wealth that would last for many years. In the story, he reveals the condition of his heart by being completely focused on himself to the point that he decides to build bigger barns so he can sit back and eat, drink and be merry. God responds by saying, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ Then, we get our lesson in the final verse, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). This man was caught up in the things of this world and while he had great capacity to be rich toward God and others, he was only focused on himself.
If we read the Parable of the Rich Fool to a crowd today and stopped at verse 19, most people would be excited to step into this guy’s shoes. We’ve become a country obsessed with the idea of striking it rich and then sitting back and enjoying the rest of life, free from work. It’s clear that God doesn’t hold that plan in high regard though. Verse 20 came as a shocker to the crowd in Jesus’ day just as it should to us today.
A Biblical Retirement
Most biblical financial issues come back to the idea of stewardship. God has put us in charge of managing all of creation for the sole purpose of bringing Him glory. Stewardship doesn’t stop with our finances though. It encompasses all of creation, including our own bodies.
God has given us each unique skills and abilities. We have the ability to glorify God through the work that we do. Most of us would agree that it seems like poor stewardship to take a perfectly good item and throw it in the trash. If there’s useful life left in it, we should at least give it to someone else that would put it to use. Are our bodies and skills that much different? In the light of eternity, doesn’t it seem like a waste to take someone that is skilled and capable of serving God and sit them on a shelf to no longer do good works?
Part of the process of being a good steward is evaluating the best use of the tools we have available. Let’s reflect on the process we go through when deciding how to best use our money. We have three possible uses. We can spend it, save it or give it away. The biggest part of our decision is figuring out which one will bring God the most glory. The same holds true for our skills and abilities. As we go through life, we should be evaluating our abilities and opportunities to best use ourselves to glorify God.
The moment that we traditionally would refer to as retirement is when we anticipate that we have enough assets to provide for our family for the rest of our lives. For those that are fortunate enough to get to this point in their financial situation, I will propose two new scenarios to compete with the worldly idea of quitting work and sitting back to eat, drink and be merry.
1. Continue working to increase generosity – Up to this point in time, you’ve been working to provide for your family and also save for that possible date when you can no longer earn enough to provide for them. Now that you have adequate resources to provide for the future, you can give away any income you earn above your living expenses. There’s no need to save anymore, so why not work and give the rest away? In addition to having extra income to give, every year you work is one less year you need your savings to provide for your family. So, with every additional year of work, you should be able to also give away some of your retirement savings because you didn’t use the amount you had saved for that year.
2. Volunteer your work – By the time some people reach that traditional retirement age, they’re ready for a change and want to do work that’s more aligned with their hearts. Why not find a job that aligns with your passion and uses your skillset and simply volunteer? I’ve seen quite a few retiring executives go to work for ministries and refuse to take a salary. The skills they bring to the ministry are usually beyond what that ministry would be able to afford in their budget. It’s a blessing to the organization and to you as you get to work in the area of your passion.
We also need to consider there will be a day in most of our lives when we can no longer perform traditional work. We can take heart in knowing though that as long as we have breath, God has a purpose for our lives. For those that aren’t able to go to a job, there is still work to be done for the Kingdom. The Bible shows us that not all work is physical. In Colossians 4:12-13 Paul writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” In this verse, we read that Epaphras worked hard at and struggled in prayer. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t perform at a traditional job, look for other opportunities to faithfully serve God. He can use you in all circumstances.
When we have a steward’s view of life, work and retirement, we realize that life is a journey full of opportunities to glorify God. We shouldn’t wait for retirement to do all the fun things in life or spend time with family because there’s no promise we’ll ever get there or be able to do those things. We seize the opportunities as they come and make the most of them. It’s okay to take vacations and have hobbies that renew our body and mind along the way because we want to be productive for the entire journey and not get burned out.
With our focus on eternity, we realize there will be a future time of rest and enjoyment, but to seek those things this side of heaven is short-sighted. We have limited time on this earth to impact others for Christ. Our hearts should desire to use every second of that time and every ounce of our ability to bring others into eternity with us. We shouldn’t dream of earning enough money so we can sit idly by while others have never heard the gospel. We don’t want to be like the rich fool “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.