Retirement is the most talked about topic in financial planning. It is often portrayed as the ultimate end goal or as the purpose for working hard at a job for multiple decades. For these reasons I ask: is retirement Biblical? This blog post answers this simple yet important question, and in doing so also explores how Christians should spend their retirement years. To begin, however, it’s helpful to start with a quick background of retirement’s history in America as a basis of understanding where our culture is today.
The Evolution of Retirement in America
One-hundred years ago most people worked until they died, or at least close to it. It was simply the norm amidst a culture where company pensions were rare and reassurance from the government was nonexistent. That all began to change in 1935 when Social Security was introduced as a response to the Great Depression. At this point, the poverty rate among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent. The program was therefore designed to provide “social insurance” to those unable to work. Keep in mind that the average life expectancy during this time was 58 and 62 for men and women, respectfully. Full Social Security retirement benefits weren’t even available until age 65.
Eighty years later, life expectancy is now 76 and 81, yet the retirement age for Social Security remains nearly unchanged at 66. As a result, Social Security has evolved from a program that gave benefit to a small percent of people into a staple government program that will be heavily relied upon by most aging Americans. Why this matters is because the program is perhaps the most key factor in creating the idea of retirement as we view it today. It has created a season of life for many that simply didn’t exist until the last few generations – one where someone is no longer working or expected to earn an income yet remains in good health.
Today the American view of retirement revolves around paying the price at work for 30-40 years in order to kick-back and enjoy a life of leisure during the “golden years”. There is an increased focus on looking inward and making life as fun and easy as possible.
The Bible and Retirement
So what does the Bible have to say about this relatively new phenomenon known as retirement? Very little actually. The only passage I’m aware of that references anything even close to what we would consider retirement is found in Numbers 8:24-25, which instructs the Levite priests to stop working in the Tabernacles once they reach age 50, at which point they could only assist those who were performing the work.
While the Bible says very little about the act of retiring from a job, it says A LOT about how we are to live during our years on earth, no matter our age or career stage. Some of these verses are:
- Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
- Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- 1 Peter 4:10-11 – As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
What we can see from these passages is that we were put on earth to serve others and glorify God, which is not dependent on whether or not we are working a full-time job.
Our Focus in Later Years
It is critical that we Christians think carefully about how we spend our later years in life. Most of us WILL reach a season in our lives when we no longer have the physical health or energy to work and earn an income from a full-time job. That simply cannot and should not stop us from serving others and glorifying God with our time.
Shakespeare wrote, “leisure is a beautiful garment for a day, but a horrible choice for permanent attire.” For many of us, our later years are the years when we will have the most resources, the most wisdom, and the most time – during these years we will have an opportunity to make a significant impact for the Kingdom.
A Real Life Example
An example from my own life, of someone who sought to wholeheartedly serve the Lord until his final days, is a friend named Eldon. Eldon was a service member and educator for most of his life, and he recently passed away at the age of 94. During Eldon’s more than 25 years of “retirement,” Eldon was passionate about serving the Lord and others. Up until the very end of his life, Eldon grew dozens of tomato plants to share with others, regularly mentored men less than half his age, painted buildings at Christian camps, and in his late 80s he even flew overseas to teach English and share the gospel. Eldon is a great example of what it looks like to serve God until he takes us home.
Rather than viewing retirement as a finish line, we should view it as a mile marker. Like passing a mile marker in a race, retirement is certainly something worth noticing and celebrating, but it shouldn’t distract us from the finish line. For the Christian, death is the finish line – this is when the real party starts!
When we lack an eternal mindset, we may put concepts such as retirement on a pedestal, and in a way, try to create our own heaven on Earth. The problem is: our retirement years are finite. An eternal view reminds us that the best is yet to come, and once it does… it never ends!
About Wacek Financial Planning
Founder, Ben Wacek, is a fee-only, Certified Financial PlannerTM who has a passion to help people of all income levels make wise financial decisions and steward their resources from an eternal perspective, using Biblical principles. If you’d like to learn more about Wacek Financial Planning, please visit www.wacekfp.com.
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