Should Christians Save for Retirement?
This is one of those “elephant in the room” questions.
Before I try to tackle it in a blog post, I want to share three statements that reveal the basis for my thinking:
- I will approach this question from a biblical perspective. Should you grapple with my comments, please search the Scriptures for yourselves because it is God, not me, for whom you must prepare to give an account.
- My view reflects my personal practice, in other words, I am practicing what I am preaching.
- Don’t be surprised if the biblical view appears as countercultural and even contradicts the practice of many Christians. Paul challenged the Roman Christians not to be conformed to the pattern of the thinking of this world, and with this post, I echo his exhortation (Romans 12:1-2).
Saving for retirement is commonly understood as “accumulating financial or other resources to position yourself and your spouse (if married) to stop working at a certain age and to live off the income stream from the assets that you have earned and amassed for yourselves for your remaining days.”
There are three dynamics that emerge in looking at this topic. Interestingly, Scripture speaks to all three.
Jesus instructs us to store up treasures, but we are not to do it on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). In calling us to store up treasure in heaven, Jesus is not trying to bankrupt us, but rather, is teaching us to put our trust in God and function as a community of followers that imitate His generosity through sharing and caring.
The Apostle Paul states plainly that those who can work must work (2 Thessalonians 3). Why? The fruit of our labor is not to make money for self-preservation (which Jesus depicts as “foolish” in Luke 12:13-21) but rather to have resources for mission, enjoyment, and sharing (Luke 8:1-3 1 Tim 6:17-19; Ephesians 4:28).
Solomon pointedly states: “no one knows when their hour will come” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). None of us know the number of our days, and money cannot secure our future. David reminds us that riches can’t save us from death, satisfy our deepest longings, or give us the security we long for. Only God can (Psalm 49)!
American responses to these biblical ideas include: “It’s my hard-earned money and I am entitled to it.” Scripture teaches that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1), that He gave us the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18), and that God wants us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world while caring for the elderly (James 1:27).
Others add: “I don’t want my kids to have to take care of me.” Think with me about where this declaration leads. We mistakenly mentor the next generation to live selfishly. For if we say it, we inadvertently teach our kids to care only for themselves rather than “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Some even say with sincerity: “This is all good in faith, Gary, but in practice, who will take care of me if I don’t save for retirement?” This boils down to trust. Are you trusting in yourself or in God to take care of you through your children and the community of others in your local church (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 1 Timothy 5:3-16)?
Society says we have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Many Christians have believed this and settled comfortably into the world rather than obeying the Word as C.S. Lewis contends (God in the Dock, 58-59): “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better…” Have we exchanged Christianity for an American article?
So getting back to the question: Should Christians save for retirement? I believe God’s design for us is far better. Let us together:
- Stop laying up treasures on earth (James 5:1-3) and store them up in heaven.
- Model for our children the selfless posture of taking care of the elderly so that when we can no longer work we will have set the example for them to follow.
- Participate in a local church that cares for widows and orphans.
We must not delay in obedience because few are living this way, but rather start today because God is the One to whom someday we will answer and give an account of our stewardship.
By Gary G. Hoag, PhD