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Christians and Retirement

June 19th, 2009 · No Comments · Christianity, Politics

With social security coming to an end a little sooner than expected, how do you think Christians should view retirement? I have one friend who decided not to save toward retirement. He said it isn’t biblical and will just work through old age. In doing so it opens him up to do more good with his money but I wonder how that balances with the concept of stewardship.

On one extreme you have people who work so hard to prepare themselves for retirement that they are basically working themselves out of needing to depend on God. On the other side you have people who do nothing and then might be a burden on their family. Where do you find the balance?

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  • Philip Cunningham III

    Good question, Matt.

    It’s difficult because we live in a pretty independent society. The early portion of Acts, and the portions of Paul’s letters where he talks about taking a collection to Jerusalem, perhaps lends an image of a more socialist network of living than we live with in the 21st century.

    (I tried to word that carefully. I’m not saying the 1st century Christians were socialists. Nor am I trying to imply that to be Christian you must be socialist. What I am trying to say is that, on the spectrum from capitalism to socialism, it sounds like they may have been more socialist than we are in 21st century America.)

    That’s not to say that we are not generous. In my time in the church, if a member ever gets real down on their luck, throws themselves on the mercy of the church, and asks for help to get through their rough patch, the church usually helps them. STILL, it’s almost like those folks carry a stigma, because it’s as if they’ve been a burden on others. Kinda like bankruptcy — it’s a reputation that stays with you forever. And I think that we think that way because, in our culture, we’re attuned to more of an independent way of living.

    And I’m not convinced (yet, at least) that the way forward is for Christians to just change & be more counter-cultural in terms of shedding our independence and becoming more socialist. I’m willing to listen to what others say, but my instinct is that this is a case of “When in Rome…”

    I think you can be a Christian and do both: give generously, and invest toward retirement. Sure we’d be able to give away a greater percentage of our money throughout life if we didn’t save. But think about how much money you can give at the end of your life if you invest wisely & take advantage of compound interest.

    And I’m not trying to draw a moral equivalency between the two ways, or saying one way is better than another. In fact, I personally can’t discern very well one way being better than the other, except for the clear downside of perhaps being at the mercy of others for later in life. So I guess I’ll stop right there. Maybe someone else can offer me some clear discernment in the way of judging one way over the other.

    (Kind of a wordy way for me to say “I don’t know,” huh ;))

  • Jordan Powell

    I know several people who worked hard for retirement and now use their free time to serve and mentor. I find these people to be good role models. I personally say save and be responsible, but don’t use that as an excuse not to give generously.

  • Davikd Combs

    Our society is sooo much different than the bible times. First, theirs was largely based on the nuclear family with intergenerational living together and families living quite nearby at least, so that families were within easy distance to help one another. Secondly, as with Matt’s friend, one worked until death; retirement at most was living with the eldest son and assisting as possible around the house, etc. There was no retirement age until Prussia’s Bismarck required it of his officials to keep them from gaining too much power. As to early Acts, the mutual assistance described was an extension of the communal faith rather than some socialistic sense. The Jews from the Diaspora in Jerusalem for Pentecost were not materially prepared for the prolonged stay necessary to be devoted to the apostle’s teaching about the Lord Jesus before they returned to their several countries; hence the need for the wealthy’s generosity to support their extended stay.
    As to the care of the widows, it was again practicing the teachings of their communal faith, a teaching distilled in 1 John 3:16-20 and yet given boundaries by Paul in 1 Tim. 5:3-5, 8-11a, 16. As to the collections for the Jerusalem/Judean saints, Acts 11:28-29 makes it clear the collection taken by Paul was incident specific, and Rom. 15:25-27 makes it clear it was for the poor and an act otheir collective, communal(on a much larger scale) faith. Similar to hurricane relief among Southern Christians. I read nothing socialistic and certainly nothing pertaining to meeting the needs of those who have CHOSEN not to prepare for their advanced years. Recall the words of Paul in 1 Tim. 5:16 to “not let the church be burdened”. Should it be burdenened by the folly of not preparing? Prov. 6:6,8 surely has practical application here for preparing for the “winter” of our advanced years.
    Back to Matt’s question: Social Security was not meant to become the retirement program it has morphed into. Read FDR’s words on the matter when he proposed it. If one is fortunate enough to have a job that does not necessitate retirement (by the employer or nature of the work) then continuing to work is laudable and would require less saving, presumably, But aging is costly; additional medicine, doctor’s visits,hospital stays, long term care needs when Activities of Daily Living require assistance, senility care, all can incur great expense. Without personal savings and insurance the costs surpass income generated by “keeping on working” Either the family or the state will be relied upon.
    Relying upon the state is only 75 years old; Being so recent I can’t see it as part of God’s eternal wisdom for his people.
    None of that is to say we become so consumed with saving we fail too be generous toward others needs, nor that we rely on “arm of flesh (which) will fail you” nor resemble the fool of Luke 12:15-21.

  • Jennifer

    I dont know what the answer is, but I do wonder about the decision to spend retirement on just yourself. I’ve known so many folks of retirement age who wont say, unapologetically, that this is time for them and the younger people who need them (at church, or in schools, or neighborhood charties) will have to do without them. It’s a loss for eveyone, I think.

  • David Combs

    Jennifer, you’re quite right.
    Folks who say retirement is a time for them premises that time or any thing else they have is theirs. It is not and they must unapologetically be told so (remembering the instruction of 1 Tim 5:1 meanwhile). Anything, everything belongs to the Lord who bought them.
    Achieving retirement age or ability frees one from the demands of employment but not from the demands of the Lordship of Jesus. Our Lord said in John 15:5 ”if a man remains in me he will bear much fruit” and in John 12:26 states “whoever serves me must follow me. And wherever I am my servant will also be.” Peter summarily describes the Lord’s earthly activities saying in Acts 10:38 “he went around doing good.”
    Psalm 92:12-14 declares, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green”. Notice the “in old age” part.
    Retirement is a time when freed from the demands of earning a living one is able to follow in the footsteps of Jesus “going around doing good” according to the talents a lifetime of discipleship has been awarded you (Matt:25:14-30) and as the Spirit has gifted you.

  • Just Matt

    Take a look at “Rethinking Retirement” by John Piper. You can find read it here:

  • Craig

    What a great question and valuable issue for Christians to consider. I started to answer the question in a comment, but it was too long. I decided instead to post my response on my blog The two part series will post this Sunday and Monday (June 28th and June 29th). The post title: Is it Biblical to Save for Retirement. The post focuses on the financial aspect of the discussion. Enjoy!

  • mattdabbs

    Thanks Craig…I look forward to reading it.

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