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.
I guess what’s hard for me to grasp or to take hold of in light of saving for retirement is when you made the comment “as you read this blog right now 100 kids have died of hunger, many of which are most likely Christians.” Please forgive me if the rest of this sounds harsh, in all honesty class on Tuesday really got me re-thinking what I believe about the subject since as of now, I have no plans of retirement….
So lemme ask some questions…
-In contrast to has God promised to provide to all Christians? Did God promise you to make it to age 65? And even if you do has He promised you’ll be in such good health to fulfill all your retirement dreams of traveling to Africa, speaking at seminars etc.?
-Is it biblical for us to be putting aside 1k per month to be saving for retirement when hundreds if not thousands of brothers and sisters are dying monthly? And putting that money aside just in hopes that one day we will be able to visit the village they died of hunger in?
-What do you think your brother in Uganda would say? Go ahead and save for your uncertain future or please brother, won’t you help me provide for my family?
-Are there people in need around you or have you simply just surrounded yourself with rich, middle-class Americans who you can compare 401k plans to?
-If there is suffering around you, people with real immediate needs, how can you justify putting 1k in the bank account rather than helping your brother so the church could actually be as it was in Acts where there was no one in need?
Again… these are just questions. Questions an old man (70 years old) asked me when I was asking him about retirement when he told me that he himself did not save for retirement and is “paying the consequences” as you would say, now.
Ernesto, If you don’t mind, let me answer some of these questions from my perspective. I think these are *really* good questions. And I would go so far as to say that it would be biblically wrong to put money towards retirement *instead* of meeting a present need of a fellow believer right in front of you (1st John 3:17). I also agree that it is far too easy for us to surround ourselves with people with a lot more money than most of the world and to be uncaring about our brothers and sisters around the globe.
The difficulty with these things of course is how to address these global poverty issues. Throwing money at some organization, no matter how sound it is, doesn’t solve the problems. In my opinion these global issues need to be addressed through local churches. We need to be fostering relationships with churches around the globe and with faithful pastors who can address these issues from a clear biblical perspective (these money issues can be *very* difficult to handle faithfully, and we want to be very careful about oversimplifying problems). And we should be planting churches, here and around the globe to further Christ’s mission and kingdom. Then we can come alongside of these churches when there are needs and opportunities. But if you aren’t saving now, you may be throwing money at a situation where the money isn’t really accomplishing your intended goal. Maybe you have relationships with solid churches and pastors who have pressing needs and massive opportunities. Then by all means give and don’t save. But if you don’t know of specific opportunities and needs, then maybe the best course of action is to save and one day possibly go and address issues firsthand, whether in ‘retirement’ or before… These are very complicated issues, so forgive me if I’m oversimplifying or not communicating clearly. But at least that is some more food for thought.
Amen, Preston. I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion and reasoning behind it. I have had this discussion with students as well. I think your final point is worth expanding upon. The real question at stake here is whether it is wrong and inherently not trusting God to save (ever!) or not. If you think people shouldn’t (ever) save for retirement, then I would challenge you with inconsistency if you have a bank account at all! Why are you saving for food or to pay your rent in between pay checks if God will always provide? As with most (all?) issues to which the Bible doesn’t directly address, motives are what matters to God. Sure it is wrong for many people to save for retirement because they are doing it out of a lack of trust in God and a desire to be lazy in the future. But Preston has outlined some very good and clear motivations why it would be good to save for retirement. Let us walk by faith. But Paul makes it very clear in 1Tim that the rich in this world aren’t called to sell everything they have, but to be generous. Sometimes it is easy to ‘walk by faith’ by receiving much from the church when we could be working hard, saving, and looking for opportunities to give… Food for thought.
Thanks for chiming in and being honest. Though I’d recommend that you temper your honesty with cordiality next time. No, to answer your question, I am not sitting around with my white-middle class friends comparing 401k accounts. I really don’t see how a question like that (and several others) shows that you captured the spirit of what I was saying.
I’m not arguing for RETIRING, but being financialy free to do more ministry in the future–ministry, which will include, Lord willing, invensiting in the fight of hunger and poverty in Africa.
You raise several good questions. No, God has not promised to let me live until I’m 65. This is a good question, and one that nags at me as I play devil’s advocate with myself about retirement. But again, IF Proverbs does say taht it’s wise to save for the future, then I think we need to have a balanced view of living for today and planning for tomorrow.
You asked: “Is it biblical for us to be putting aside 1k per month to be saving for retirement when hundreds if not thousands of brothers and sisters are dying monthly?” Again, if the Proverbs advocate saving, then yes, it’s biblical by definition. But you raise a good point, but one which is very difficult to give a black and white “right” answer to. I could also ask: “Is it right to live in a 3 bedroom house, when you can live in a 2, or a 2 bedroom house when you can live in a 1, or, live in a house, when you can live in a trailer, or a tent. Is it right to buy a burger, when you can eat bread. Is it ever ok to go out to Mission Burrito and spend $7 when you could spend 10 cents on some Top Raman? Why buy a printed T shirt when a white T would suffice? All that money could have saved the lives of 5 children–at least!
And the list could go on. In a sense, we are always living in this tension. Kids are dying and we have excess. No one is really ever giving all they CAN to the cause. So with every decision–buying burittos, saving for retirement, going to a movie, buying underwear when just pants are sufficient–we need to ask ourselves if our total life posture is one of generosity?
Acts is more complicated than you make it out to be. First, is it intended to model how the church should always look, or is it showing off God’s power in the growth of the early church from Jerusalem to Rome? There’s a lot of cultural things going on in Acts that aren’t designed, I don’t think, to be a model for every church of every age. Second, with the “selling of houses” passages in Acts 2 and 4, we also need to see that John Mark’s mom didn’t sell hers and she was wealthy enough afford a servant! (Mark 12). In fact, many rich Christians didn’t sell their homes in Acts, since this is the place where the church would gather. Gaius, in fact, must have had a mansion, since all the house churches would meet at his house in Corinth (Rom 16:23), and yet Paul didn’t confront him to sell it and give the money to the starving church in Jerusalem (though I’m sure that he gave a healthy sum of cash when Paul collected money; 1 Cor 16:-4).
Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going with this. Maybe just to say that the most important thing is that we as the church are doing stuff to meet the needs of the poor, and nothing I’ve said about retirement is intended to take away from this. In fact, in many ways, I’m wanting to help the poor in 2011 and in 2041 BY having a retirement–whether through my own checkbook, or the checkbook of my wife/kids who will have inhereted my 401k if I don’t make it till then.
Thanks…. I think I have, just as happens in every other class at EBC, had my world-view rocked. I really appreciate your wisdom on the subject and will continue to think it through…
what really got me was the mission burrito/top raman statement as I read that sitting in a coffee bean with my wife sipping on a $3 coffee!
I must say I struggle with it in exactly the same way Francis put it.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2oi6y292kE in speaking to Proverbs 30:7-9 and when we are taught to pray for our daily bread.. and Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”…
I am all about mission work, but I know one day I will not be able to work or make money and I don’t want to be a burden on others.. Its a tough subject though.. I know I have the ability, to assist others in need now.. There are some situation that require relief with money, some dying need to be rescued, children that need to be rescued, investing in community that can build up and make a difference money is not the end all, but all of that takes money also… I happen to no several families who live this out, live on daily bread and devote their lives to helping others and furthering the gospel, and they are making a difference in peoples lives now and they somehow have the faith to do this without a 401k plan… anyway I struggle..
Ernest, Josh, and Mark,
Thanks for dropping in. You all offered some very helpful comments that really furthered my thinking on the issue. Again, I’m still trying to think through the issue and in no way have landed permanently on my view.
I just wanted to reiterate point 3 from my post in response to some of the things you said (Ernest and Mark). I don’t think that saving for retirement is equivalent to lack of faith. On the flip side, that not saving for retirement is a demonstration of faith. Faith is believing what God has said, and I don’t think that God has promised to provide financially and materially for every single Christian regardless of what we do (point 5 above). So I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy to say that I’m NOT going to save for retirement; rather, I’m going to live on FAITH (= believing what God has promised).
Preston, thanks for the response and bear with me because I am def no biblical scholar ; )
But maybe that faith is just faith in knowing that if you spend yourself for Him he will not forsake you. In Isaiah it says.. and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Now maybe I might starve to death, but my faith is in Gods will for me and trusting that if I serve Him by serving others then I have faith that its all going to be cool yo! Right !? lol..
Also does the parable of the talents have any insight on this?
Or put another way, if my family and sell everything and pack up and move to Ethiopia, start a mission to serve the poor and oppressed, and somehow God stopped providing for us we ended up on the streets and starve to death (unlikely I think but bear with me) or live this way for many years and come to a point where we cant work anymore and others then have to support us. In either case, in reflecting on the whole Gospel do you think He will say well done, or hey you really screwed up?
On the flip side you watch kids die of starvation, kids sold into slavery, girls into prostitution, and you help a little here and there but don’t go all in you keep some back to make sure you can make a difference at some time later in life as well.. taking in consider James 4:13-16.. What would He say? well done? would it be as well done as the other? Again I don’t know, these are the things I struggle with…
You raise many good points and it’s so hard for me to disagree with wanting to serve the Lord whole heartily, especially by meeting the needs of the poor. This so much captures my own heart, that I feel weird pushing back on this. So first off, let me just say: thanks for your passion, zeal, and willingness to make sacrifices for the kingdom. I’m glad you’re on our side!
Now, for the sake of the discussion and furthering our thinking, here’s a couple thoughts.
As I stated in my response to Ernest above, the questions you raise are not specific to the question of retirement but relevant for any dime that’s spend on ourselves when it could go toward the poor. Any burger, coffee, doughnut, extra shirt (we don’t really NEED more than 1), etc. I really don’t think any of us are giving all we can to the poor.
This sounds a bit overwhelming, but the Bible doesn’t say (if we read all the economic passages, not just a select few) that every Christian should literally give everything away and never spend SOME surplus on oneself (there’s an element of hyperbole in Lk. 12:33; 14:33).
A good passage that speaks to this is Deut 14:11-29, where the Israelites were commanded to use some of their tithe to buy some steaks, lamb kabobs, and a bunch of hard alcohol FOR THEMSELVES to celebrate the Lord’s wonderful provision. But, He adds, don’t neglect the Levite (14:27) and the poor among you (14:28-29). I think this is a good posture to take. There are seasons of celebration that can be sprinkled into to a life of sacrifice and generosity.
And thanks for bringing up James 4:13-17. VERY convicting passage, and one that I failed to mention in this post. I think that it teaches something similar to Matt 6; namely, wrong motivation for thinking of the future, not the inherent sin of thinking of the future. After all, he says that they “boast in their/your arrogance” and that “all such boasting is evil” (4:16-17). So it seems that, like Matt 6, it’s more of a heart issue than the inherent nature of making some tentative plans for the future. James is addressing not just arrogance, but people who are boasting in their arrogance.
In all, I would just want to argue for consistency. Would it be wrong to not plan at all for the future, give most of my money away to help starving children? Would it be wrong to give all of my rent money away to help starving children, and if God wants to provide for my rent, then He can certainly do so. But even if He chooses not to, then so be it. Even if my family and I are on the streets, we’ll be there with great joy knowing that we made a gospel-centered sacrifice for starving children.
This all sounds good, and I can make a good rhetorical case that this is noble and spiritual. But again, I just don’t see that in most cases, this is what we see most people doing in the Bible.
I’ve already listed a few passages above, and I don’t have time to give more. But a couple great books are: Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, and Ron Rider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.
Thanks for the great post, and replies Preston. I have to agree on the balanced approach.. I have to take each of opportunity to spend or save as they come.. and also knowing that its not just me, that I have a family as well, and 1 Tim 5:8 does say Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever…
Thanks so much for the discussion. Wish I could attend there, but hey I’m 41 with 6 kids under 13.. Oh, and I really enjoyed “Erasing Hell”..
In light of the great comments above, here’s my two cents (pun intended).
I think the most important thing to come out of this discussion is that it’s not about having or not having a retirement fund, savings account, etc. What God cares about is the heart. I’ve heard many Christians say directly or imply that a person with a retirement fund does not trust God. I appreciate the insight shared here and the confidence that it is, in fact, possible to trust God while having and even through having a retirement fund.
But I’d also point out that we need to be careful not to swing the pendulum too far. Just as it is possible to trust God while saving for retirement, it is also possible to be a good and wise steward while giving everything away. It looks foolish in our culture, but there are biblical principles and precedents to indicate that God may well lead a Christian to give up his or her retirement fund to meet an immediate need.
So my point is, this seems to be an issue of conscience. There are biblical principles that must drive our thinking on this: we need to trust God, be good stewards, care for the poor, etc. But two Spirit-led individuals may well decide to use their money in opposite ways. The problem does not lie in our convictions, but in our tendency to push our convictions onto the people around us.
In other words, the Bible nowhere tells us that we would be foolish to not have a 401(k), nor does it tell us that we would be sinful to have one. The question we all have to wrestle with is how do we best use our money—along with everything else in our lives—to glorify God and further His kingdom on earth? And we have to keep in mind that this is not a general question: it is place, time, and culture specific. How do I, in my unique historical, cultural, and financial setting glorify God with the money He gives me? Given my setting, the arguments that you (Preston) make lead me to believe that having a retirement fund would probably be the best way for me to faithfully serve the kingdom (not just now, but for the future of the kingdom as well). But I have to always check my heart and make sure my 401(k) doesn’t replace my reliance on God and doesn’t become an expression of compassionless materialism.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that any of this contradicts anything expressed above, but I do think it’s a helpful point to bring out explicitly.
Marks S and B,
Great follow up thoughts! Couldn’t agree more. Willing to give up anything at any moment–great point that needs to be reiterated (Gen 22).
Great points above.. I think Mark Beuving made a great point about the importance of the heart. I *think* (and I highlight THINK) that a person can be led by God to have a 401K or not have a 401K. Someone can also violate God’s call for them by having a 401K or not having a 401K. Preston, in your actual blog post, I loved the part where you said:
“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.”
In my own life’s context, I see more people saving and having a 401K and NOT living a life of simplicity, insane generosity, and they are not weeding out the idols and comforts that idolatrous materialism comes with. I want to make clear, I definitely think that some people are called to save, maybe a dollar that is gained today is divinely appointed to be in the specific hands of a person 6 years from now. Right now in Brian Colmery’s class (Former Prophets) we have just gone through Joshua, Judges, and are now in Samuel. From the study of these books, it’s easy to see that God’s people did not have the right motives. God’s people had a heart issue. Several heart issues. Unike the Israelites, I hope our motives for saving are never about selfish gain or manipulating God. Just some thoughts. I’ll think more about this topic and write more later, God willing of course.
Thanks for this discussion. This is an issue I have been wrestling with for a while. I think Preston is right to say we do not want to say it’s right or wrong to save for retirement. Each case, depending on the person’s heart and the demands of the gospel in the specific situation, dictate whether or not to set money aside for the future.
Here are some other questions for the blender…
How does our individualistic mindset impact the way we think about “saving” for the future? Could it be that the only reason we have this issue is because we do not think of ourselves, first, as an intimate part of a group of people called the church? Haven’t most cultures throughout history had families that invested all of their resources into their family and when it was time to stop working the family took care of them? Thus when they received extra resources they thought “this will be great for my family” instead of “this will be great for my future.” Shouldn’t this be the pattern we follow, even more so, because of our being a part of an intimate, mysterious body of Christ?
Matt: Preston could probably speak more to the financial aspect of OT/NT life than I, but it seems to me that parents normally didn’t pass on wealth/inheritance to their children/family in OT Israel until they died. It seems to me the same in NT times (cf. parable of the prodigal son where giving him his wealth/inheritance before the father died was abnormal). We also see lots of rich people in the Bible (women following and supporting Jesus out of their own means, Paul’s instructions to rich people, etc.). So while I like your thought and idea and definitely think it is valid to invest in our families (both church and otherwise), when we see quite a few rich individuals in Scripture who didn’t divest their wealth, I think I would stop short of calling it the pattern, maybe just one of several good patterns to follow. Once again I think Mark’s post is right on, it comes back to motives… Anyway, those are my thoughts. Thanks!
Ok, so now we’re getting into much more complex discussion that needs to be had but rarely ever is outside scholarly circles. I treasure this sort of stuff!
In the OT, the elderly were taken care of both by their families and the neighborly community. For instance, the gleaning laws, where the edges of the fields were to be left for orphan, widow, and ELDERLY, would be one way in which the community would provide for its own. It was also common for the elder to move in with their kids to be taken care of. Now, all of this took place under a theocracy (all their neighbors were part of the covenant) and in an agrarian culture, so it would be impossible to replicate it exactly today. But I do think there are principles of continuity that we find in the NT. We see this in 1 Tim 5, where it is the family’s responsibility to care for its own, and in some cases Paul contrasts “the family” with “the church” (1 Tim 5:16).
All that to say, I think there are general principles (care for your family) but no hard and fast rules for how to carry this out.
I will say and have often said–in agreement with Matt–that if the church was doing what it should, then we wouldn’t need life insurance nor retirement accounts. Christians give an average of 2.4% of its income to the church, and then the church uses the bulk of this to build elaborate buildings and secure 6 (sometimes 7) figure salaries for its leaders. The Evangelical church is one of the wealthiest organizations ever to exist and statistically it has the means to end world poverty TODAY if it wanted to. So at the very least, we could care for our own.
But this is pretty idealistic and can only happen if churches are intentional about revamping the system. This may take 20, 40, 100 years, I don’t know. But I do know that if I died today, there’s no system set up that would care for my family, which is why I have a life insurance policy.
In the early church, most of the money that came in was redistributed to poor believers within the faith, and the left-over money when to support salaries and fund buildings, etc. (pre-Constantine). But now, it’s exactly the opposite.
Preston, thank you for the thought provoking topic.
I personally feel that money is, for many, a form of idolatry because people have taken a great affection for it; many are scared of losing or not having it and many have become obsessed with making and saving it. Money has become a tremendous influence on peoples’ lives and as stated in Mat: 6:24 “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot server God and mammon.” This discussion mentions that God places us in stewardship of the things we have which is a truth we should acknowledge; all that we have is His and ought to be used for His sake. We must be ready and willing to render to God what belongs to God and this is not an easy thing for a lot of folks to do. Pro 21:2 “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” When we have a heart for God, He will guide our lives and our decisions with our money. I don’t think there is one answer for all Christians to abide by; there is one source to find the answer and I believe that answer may vary from person to person according to His perfect will.
I am not a minister, but I have the combined privilege and responsibility of being on my church’s finance committee. One of the items we deal with pastoral pay. In that role, I have had to wrestle with this in a very practical way. Here are a couple of my insights, in order of personal impact (not necessarily biblical priority):
* Statistically speaking, since we aren’t privy to God’s plans, your wife will outlive you. Husband, if you choose not to save for retirement, you choose not to provide for your wife. What will happen to her when God takes you home and she has no income for the next 20 years? — Especially if you are a minister and take this to its furthest extent – opting out of Social Security. It is biblical to care for the needs of your spouse (Eph 5:28-33).
* Saving, like tithing and daily scripture reading, is a discipline. Forget retirement for a moment. Today, this very moment, are your credit card bills growing or shrinking? Here in America I assume you have consumer debt (as opposed to, say, a mortgage). You can practice discipline by “Saving as unto the Lord”. If you are living and saving properly today, you are *as a consequence* saving for tomorrow. If you don’t save, I cant think of a better verse to describe your state later in life than Proverbs 25:28 – “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (ESV)
* God ordains a)who will be the recipients of his good gifts, including physical possessions, and b)how he distributes those good gifts. The wise businessman took the one talent and gave it to the man who already had 10. Which is better: give away $100 today and save a life, or keep it, use it wisely, and give away $10,000 in a few years to save many lives? The answer is hard: Which has God put on your heart, since both are good responses to his prompting?
* Here’s a provocative question based on the last point: If you are a wise investor, isn’t the most God honoring use of the gift he’s given you to (after tithing) store up wealth for a time, and leave it to ministries when you die? –A more harsh judgment waits for the one who doesn’t do what he knows. To whom much is given much is expected. (Luke 12:42-48 abbreviated)
* One important counterpoint to the above: God doesn’t need your money. He can do more with the widow’s mite than with all of Solomon’s gold. So if you save in Pride, relying on your ability to “Turn this into something God can REALLY use” then you aren’t saving to the glory of God.
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At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the attitude of the heart, which is above all the glory of God. While God’s glory is shown in radical generosity, it is also shown in wisdom. While Paul was always willing to be considered a fool FOR CHRIST, he nowhere advocated simply being a fool. At the end of the day, God will work out everything to his Glory. The question we have to answer is “How will I pursue that glory?”
As a finance committee, one of the ways we chose to answer that question is by concluding that one way we can act out 1 Timothy 5:17 is by paying them money to be saved for retirement. While our current tax structure doesn’t allow us to force them to save it (indeed, to our chagrin at least one doesn’t) each of them knows that the money was given them to provide for retirement, and more importantly to us as a committee, for their wives.