I am 62 years old and facing retirement. I’ve tried to carefully manage my funds with Social Security, IRAs, mutual funds, savings, and some investments in the stock market so that I will be financially secure in my later years. I know that nothing is guaranteed in the future, but I’ve done the best I can to be all set.
Is there a biblical model for retirement?
First, may I congratulate you on the obvious discipline that you have shown to put yourself in a good position for financial retirement. You are one of the few people I’ve met who has done adequate financial planning.
Second, I recognize that some folks never had a good enough salary to accomplish the things that you have. You are very fortunate.
Third, thank God for Social Security and Medicare, which will help some squeak through retirement with just enough.
Yes, Richard, the Bible does have a clear-cut plan for retirement. But for many of us, it is not at all what we’ve imagined.
1. Retirement, As Practiced in Our Culture, Is Not Necessarily Supported By Scripture
Our culture today follows the dictionary’s definition for retirement: “to withdraw from office, business, or active life; to enjoy what many think of as the ‘golden years.’”
Many see retirement as sleeping late every morning … or rocking on the porch … or on the creek bank fishing … or crocheting at the local senior center … or perhaps enjoying the golf course every day.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these delightful things as long as we don’t allow them to be the focus of our lives. But the idea of a believer who chooses to stop functioning as a productive disciple of Christ just because he or she has reached some arbitrary age (like 65) is completely foreign to Scripture.
2. The Biblical Definition of Retirement Is Death
God has a mandatory retirement date for each one of us. On that day, He will remove us from the earth. This is good because earthly life is not an end in itself!
According to Scripture, our earthly life is just a testing ground to determine two things: Where will we spend eternity? And if we have received Christ as Savior, what our rewards and responsibilities will be when we get to Heaven?
God intends for us to exit this life either by death or by rapture. Mentally and physically, we will become less and less active as we grow older. This may mean that we have the wisdom and grace to step down from a particular job when we are no longer able to function properly.
On the one hand, God will allow some of us to become completely disabled and unable to work before we die. Be assured that He has another way for us to function as a disciple of Christ. On the other hand, He intends for some of us to work eight-hour shifts until the day we die, and God retires us.
3. If We Are Living in God’s Will, We Will Not Die Until He Is Ready to Take Us Home
Scripture tells us that God has a purpose in mind for each and every day we live (see Psalm 139:15-16). That means quitting or arbitrarily retiring, as it is encouraged by our culture, is simply not in the plan of God.
The Bible is full of examples of men and women who were viable and functioning long after the “retirement age” of 65.
By the way, do you know why we have 65 as our basic retirement age?
Germany was setting up a Social Security-type program in the late 1800s. Kaiser Wilhelm said, “Let’s set the qualification age at 65. No one lives that long.” My, how things have changed.
Now, may I give you some examples?
Caleb was assigned by Joshua to lead the Israelites into battle in the Promised Land.
As they marched into war, Caleb encouraged the army by shouting, “I am just as fit at 85 to go to battle as I was at 40!” Caleb didn’t say, “Joshua, I would love to go to fight with you, but I just retired.”
Abraham and Sarah were “stricken in years” (120 years) when they had their first child. There would be no Jews if they stopped trying when they reached 65 or even 119!
If we are obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, operating in the will of God, nothing on this earth … nothing … can take our lives until our work is finished. The Lord God will empower us to do anything on the earth that is His will, regardless of the difficulty, apparent odds, obstacles, or our age.
What an inspiration this is for some folks who are mounting the crest of the final hill!
With these three truths in mind, we can formulate a biblical principle regarding retirement:
Normal biblical retirement occurs when a believer carries out God’s first and best plan for his life. God will take him or her to glory on the appointed day.
4. It Is Possible to Retire Too Early or to Retire Late
Early retirement occurs when a believer is disobedient and fails to engage in a profitable ministry before he or she dies. God may decide that a person is wasting His time, and so He brings him or her home early.
Let me give you a few examples.
Saul was the first king of Israel. He was a petty man who failed to carry out God’s intentions for his life. He was killed in battle, decapitated, and his head was put on a pole to be mocked by his enemies. God retired Saul early.
Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about the amount of money that they received from a land deal. They told Peter that out of their generosity, they were giving it all to the church when, in fact, they lied. They were only giving a portion. God killed them on the spot. He retired them early.
Late retirement can also happen when God actually extends our retirement date due to unusual faithfulness or obedience.
King Hezekiah (read 2 Kings 20) is perhaps the most outstanding example of late retirement.
God told good King Hezekiah that it was time for him to die. Hezekiah pleaded with God for a few more years. After all, he reasoned, King Uzziah and King Rehoboam were bad kings, and God let them live for a much longer time. He declared, “I have been a man of faith and wholehearted devotion.”
Scholars tell us that Hezekiah was 39 when he made this statement. Hezekiah knew that wicked King Uzziah had ruled until he was 68. He knew that rebellious and disobedient King Rehoboam had reigned until he was 58.
Hezekiah was making his case before God: “Listen. God, this is not fair. Those two reprobate kings are getting a lot more time than I am. I have served you with my whole heart. I have obeyed you! It is not right!”
God extended Hezekiah’s retirement for 15 years more than His original plan.
But God didn’t extend Hezekiah’s life—or Caleb’s, for that matter—just so they could enjoy a period of retirement … sit and rock on the back porch … or fish and play golf. He intended for them to use those retirement years to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
For the remainder of his fifteen years, Hezekiah delivered Israel from the Assyrians and designed and built a reservoir and conduit to supply water to the city of Jerusalem. And at the end of that fifteen years, when his work was finished, he died. God retired him.
The lesson is this: God intends for us to serve Him as long as there is breath in our bodies. If we serve Him with our whole hearts, He might arrange for late retirement!
Either way, He will provide all the resources necessary to do His will, and nothing will take our lives until our work is finished.
5. Vacations, Holidays, and Recreation Are All Proper Within Scriptural Limits
The whole biblical concept of the Sabbath emphasizes rest! Anyone who doesn’t have enough sense to rest one day out of every seven is going to pay a price. In fact, I think that the most valuable form of rest for the Christian is the rest from his normal work habits every seven days.
There are times when we grow weary from the pressure of our normal routine or even of our day-to-day work for the Lord. But we don’t need 10, 15, or 20 years of rest. That is absurd. What we need may be a few days … weeks … even months, as the Lord directs. Then we get back to work—whatever that work may look like in God’s plan for us.
6. Rest May Take Many Forms
Playing golf; tennis; crocheting, fishing; playing with grandchildren; gardening; various types of hobbies. The variety is endless. Even mowing the lawn could be restful for some.
As we get older, our bodies and minds need more rest in order to stay healthy. And each one of us needs a different amount of rest according to the work God has for us to do. For example, one of my daughters struggles with a serious chronic illness. She’s able to work about four hours per day, and then her body says, “Enough.” She has to rest much more than most … but she is productively, joyfully completing the work God has planned for her right now.
However, if you have in mind a date when you will arbitrarily quit working and live off what you have accumulated—even though you are still able to work and produce—then you are on the wrong track.
7. There Are Multiple Ways We Can Serve in the Years Before God Retires Us to Heaven
God may call you to leave your career and do something new for His Kingdom. What a privilege! Teach; go on a mission trip; lead a small group: work with teenagers; deliver meals to shut-ins; visit nursing homes to cheer up the residents; pass out Bibles; and on and on goes the list.
He will open up opportunities and give you the physical strength, mental capacity, and financial resources you need to follow … be watching!
Let me close with this story.
An old man in his nineties had a regular habit of working every day in his garden. One day he was out chopping weeds, and a little boy came by and began watching him. He stood for a long time watching the old man—you can imagine how an old man in his nineties looked to a little boy.
Finally, the boy got up the courage to speak. He said to the old man, “Mister, what would you do if you only had one hour to live?” The old man stopped, leaned on his hoe, and said, “I’d just keep right on chopping weeds.”
That is the biblical concept of retirement—just keep right on chopping—until God calls you home.