Or, put simply, does having a retirement account reveal that someone is not trusting God, is less spiritual, or wrongly hoarding money for themselves?
This was the question that we wrestled with for about 45 min on Tue during OT Survey class. So please be aware, this post is uncharacteristically long since it’s directed more at my students who were in class yesterday. But if you’re not an EBC student, please weigh in. I’d love to hear your thoughts! It was a great discussion, which elicited many different reactions. There were some students on both sides of the issue, and I advocated for the “retirement can be a wise decision” position. So here’s some of my arguments why.
To clarify, by “retirement” I do not mean checking out of life and ministry at the age of 65 (or whatever). I mean planning ahead to be financially free to do more ministry and provide for my family in the future. I would love to be 65, 70, 75, and be able to venture to Uganda to teach at a Seminary, devote loads of extra time to my local church (teaching, discipling, scrubbing toilets, etc.), teaching and speaking at Bible Colleges and other churches—and so on and so on—without the pressure of thinking of my own survival.
So here are some reasons why I think it’s wise to save for retirement—assuming, that you have the means to do so.
First, the Proverbs suggest it. The one passage that’s most familiar is Proverbs 6:6-11:
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Now, Matt brought up a good point in class yesterday that the passage is focused on saving vs. laziness, rather than saving vs. not saving. I still wonder if this nullifies any inherent wisdom in saving regardless of whether or not someone is being lazy if they don’t save. There are other proverbs that talk about the blessing of leaving an inheritance (e.g. 13:11; 20:21 and others), and although this is embedded in a patriarchal and agrarian culture, I still think that it promotes saving money for the future as something that is wise to do.
Second, I’ve never met any older, wiser, men or women of God, close to the age of retirement, who say that it’s NOT wise to save for retirement. If there are, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Third, the logic that goes something like “God will provide for you in the future and therefore don’t save for retirement” assumes that God cannot provide for your future by giving you surplus today. It assumes that God must provide for your later needs at a later time and through other people (donations, family, anonymous gifts, etc.) and it assumes that He does not provide for your later needs today through giving you extra income. But I would say that this is a very narrow view of “God’s provision” and unnecessarily limits how God can and does provide for us. Every penny I have is God’s provision, whether it comes through my hands or someone else’s. Therefore, saving for retirement does not in itself mean I’m not trusting God to provide. Not to mention, what would cost me $5,000/year today (through a 401k or whatever) will end up costing the church (or whomever) $60,000 a year later if I rely on it to support me in 30 years. Personally, I’d love to see that 60k go towards supporting a third-world pastor (or 60 third world pastors) and not an elderly American who failed to save for retirement.
Fourth, not all money allocated to other people is “God’s provision.” This is certainly a positive way of putting it and the one receiving money usually puts it this way. But Paul also talks about people being a financial burden on the church (1 Tim 5:16, speaking of widows). In that sense, we need to make sure that by relying upon God to provide—through other people, since money doesn’t fall from the sky—we are not at the same time burdening God’s people, the church, with needs than could have been prevented through good stewardship and wise planning.
Fifth, has God promised to financially and materially provide for the basic needs of all Christians at all times no matter what they do? Be careful! Don’t answer so quickly. Really think about this question. Has God promised to financially and materially provide for the basic needs of all Christians at all times no matter what they do? Because if He has promised this, then all it takes is for one Christian to die of hunger to make God a liar—He broke his promise to provide the necessities of life for this poor believer. Now, by the time you read this post, approximately 100 children have died from hunger, many of whom are Christians. So I think we need to be very carefully banking on promises that God Himself has not actually made.
Sixth, Matt 6:25-34 is the main passage (perhaps the only one) that people quote to show that “God will provide.” But the passage is confronting anxiety and being worried about the future. It doesn’t actually say don’t save or don’t work (though some have taken it that way). It could be taken to confront saving money because you are frantically worried about the future and not focusing on today: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34). But this doesn’t in itself exclude human action in the provision process. Otherwise, we could all quit our jobs and just trust God to provide in light of Matt 6, but given the rest of what the Bible says about work, this would not be wise. So Matt 6 may be seen as confronting a wrong motivation for retirement/savings (misplaced trust, greed, anxiety, etc.), but not retirement/savings in itself.
Finally, seventh, if you believe saving for retirement is wrong, then you must also believe that all saving for the future is wrong to be logically consistent (not to mention having a life insurance policy). For instance (I’m speaking to the non-retirement folks), do you think it would be wrong to save for a mission’s trip in, say, 2 years? What about a mission’s trip in 5 years? What about in 10 years? Or, what if you are 60 and are saving for a mission’s trip in 5 years—when you are at the retirement age of 65? The point: it becomes a bit arbitrary to put a time limitation on saving for future ministry/mission. How long is too long? What I’m arguing for is saving for a whole string of mission trips and ministry endeavors when I’m no longer able to work. Again, I want to plan now in order to be financially free later to focus more on ministry and less on trying to survive.
These are my thoughts thus far. I’d love to hear yours. Again, a biblical view of retirement assumes that you are not just saving money for the future, but also living a life of simplicity, insane generosity, and weeding out all the idols of comfort and materialism along the way.