How does the Bible define retirement?

For many Americans, the idea of retiring from work and living a life of recreation free of worry is extremely appealing. But, it’s also unbiblical.

The word “retirement” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. Perhaps, that means God expects us to be productive during our entire life on earth.

One of Jesus’ most powerful messages was delivered in the “Parable of the Rich Fool.” It can be found in Luke 12:13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Doesn’t that parable sound very similar to how Americans define retirement? “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Those words could almost appear on a recruitment poster for places like Sun City, Ariz. 

In all fairness to Sun City, the community does promote the idea of volunteerism. Residents are encouraged to donate time to help lead groups, plan events, serve others and keep the neighborhoods clean. Yet, for most people, the ratio would be one part work for every nine parts recreation.

1 Timothy 5:6 notes, “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” If that applies to women, how much more does it apply to men who are wired for work? In Genesis 3:17-19, God made it very clear to Adam that he would have painful toil ALL the days of his life. By the sweat of his brow, Adam would have to earn his food until he returns to the ground.

“This means if you’re retired your primary focus shouldn’t just include golfing, social functions or pleasurable pursuits alone; these things can make retirement more meaningful. But don’t let them become your only goals because what you do in your retirement and what drives the decisions that come with it are what matters,” the website noted.

It is a fallacy that God created you for a time like this, then endowed you with specific natural talent, opened doors for you to develop specific skills, and exposed you to unique experiences just so you can get a nice little situation going for yourself on earth.

Heaven is the time when people of faith get to relax and enjoy all of eternity in a paradise. Until then, there is a lot of work to be done.

Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. That’s because we each have a job to accomplish during our very short time on earth.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself cautioned his followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Of all the assignments people of faith have on earth, helping others to become more righteous tops the list, especially for older folks who have the benefit of years of study and experience. Titus 2 gives people a list of things they can be teaching in their later years, including:

  • Teach older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
  • Teach older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
  • Train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands.
  • Encourage young men to be self-controlled.
  • Teach people to show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.
  • Teach people to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

While Numbers 8:25 directs that the Levite priests who served in the temple must retire from regular service and no longer work, that applies only to their priestly duties. Remember, Moses was in his 80s when he started serving as Israel’s leader.

In Joshua 14:10-11, the prophet exclaimed, “So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.”

Retirement: A mile marker or finish line?

I think the modern concept of “retirement” can be traced to the development of Social Security in 1935. Back then, life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women, yet full retirement benefits were not available until people reached 65. That fact alone suggests people were expected to be productive until they died. But, if they lived way beyond what was expected, a safety net was in place to help them.

Somewhere along the way, 65 became the magical age in which people thought they could stop working and just collect their pensions and Social Security checks.

Today, thanks to modern medicine that can keep people alive longer, even if they aren’t “living,” life expectancy is 75 for men and 81 for women, according to Statista. Does that mean people are simply to stop being productive members of society and live off their savings and benefit checks?

“Today, the American view of retirement seems to revolve around paying the price at work for 30-40 years so that you can kick back and pursue a life of leisure in your ‘golden years.’ There seems to be a focus on looking inward and making life as fun and easy as possible,” the Christian Financial Advisors Network reported.

Most Christians long to hear Jesus tell them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Should we really expect to hear that type of praise when we “retired” at 65 or earlier and have done nothing productive or creative in the following 20 years? Wouldn’t that be similar to expecting our employer to praise us for something we did in high school or college?

For many of us, our later years are when we will have the most resources, the most wisdom, the most experience, finely-tuned talent and the most time. Consequently, shouldn’t those be the years when we have the most opportunity to make a significant impact for God’s kingdom?

Retirement Affairs suggested its readers “spend your time with people who will have an uplifting influence on you, not those who bring down self-esteem and create discord among friends.” Notice the advice does not suggest spending all day indoors watching television and surfing the internet.

“Rather than viewing retirement as a finish line, I think that we should view it as a mile marker,” wrote Ben Wacek, a certified financial planner. “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 – and that is when the real party starts!”

Keep running the race

Here are a few closing passages to encourage you to not slow down, but rather keep persevering to the true finish line:

  • Galatians 5:7 – You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
  • 2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
  • Acts 20:24 – I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.
  • Hebrews 12:1-3 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
  • Matthew 25:21 – Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

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