Should Christians Save for Retirement?

How is maintaining a generous retirement plan fundamentally different from the rich fool storing up for his later years to live out his life in comfort and security?

“Is saving large amounts of money for retirement as essential as we’re constantly told? Paul commended the Macedonian believers, not for clinging to the little they had, but for giving beyond their means (2 Corinthians 8:3‑5).”

 

When a man retires at sixty-five, studies show his chances of having a fatal heart attack immediately double. Our minds and bodies weren’t made to be shut down. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God calling healthy people to stop working. So before we think about saving for retirement, we should reexamine our thinking about retirement itself. How much of what we think and assume is based on our culture, and how much is really based on God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit?

Of course, it’s perfectly legitimate to work without pay. You might donate labor to ministries and volunteer. But as long as God has us in this world, He has work for us to do. The hours may be shorter, the work different, the pay lower or nonexistent. But He doesn’t want us to take still-productive minds and bodies and permanently lay them on a beach, lose them on a golf course, or lock them in a dark living room watching game shows.

Is saving large amounts of money for retirement as essential as we’re constantly told? Paul commended the Macedonian believers, not for clinging to the little they had, but for giving beyond their means (2 Corinthians 8:3‑5).

The Macedonian Christians had virtually no material things, yet they gave beyond their means to the point of leaving themselves impoverished. If they didn’t need to think of tomorrow, why do we—with all our material wealth—need to be so concerned about storing up earthly treasures for thirty years from now?

I’m not saying we can’t use or shouldn’t have a retirement plan. I do. But as God’s children, we need to think differently about them. Our brothers and sisters in other ages didn’t have them, and neither do most non-American Christians today. Yet they’ve found God absolutely sufficient to meet their needs. Usually the wealthy are most consumed by retirement planning simply because they have the resources to think in those terms.

I agree with Larry Burkett’s assessment of the saving-for-retirement obsession:

Retirement planning so dominates the thinking of Christians who have sizable incomes that they overkill in this area enormously. The fear of doing without in the future causes many Christians to rob God’s work of the very funds he has provided. These monies are tucked away in retirement accounts for twenty to forty years. God’s Word does not prohibit but rather encourages saving for the future, including retirement (Proverbs 6:6-11; 21:20), but the example of the rich fool, given by the Lord in Luke 12:16-20, should be a clear direction that God’s balance is “when in doubt—give; don’t hoard.” (How to Use Your Money Wisely)

As I share in my book Money, Possessions, and Eternity, we must ask the same question about our retirement savings as all savings. Is this reasonable planning, exercising foresight as Proverbs commends? Or is it an alternative to trusting God, a backup in case God doesn’t come through? How is maintaining a generous retirement plan fundamentally different from the rich fool storing up for his later years to live out his life in comfort and security? We know what Jesus thought of that man’s retirement plans (Luke 12:16-21). Why should we assume He thinks differently about ours? We should study this passage and compare our attitudes, behavior (including giving), and plans for the future to that man’s, and ask how different we are from him. If there’s no difference, obviously we need to change something.

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