When I arrived, they had a dozen questions they’d saved up over the weeks for me to answer or comment on. Among them was this question;
Is retirement biblical? I’m not aware of any passage in scripture that commands or encourages retirement. However, there are stories of prophets who passed on their roles to others (Elijah to Elisha) when they grew old. David retired as king and appointed Solomon to rule while he was still alive (1 King 1:32-35). In each of these cases, these men were old and physically unable to carry on their duties anymore. I’m just not aware of anyone in scripture “retiring” while still in good health and mentally alert.
But the idea of retirement at 65 or so, is so baked into our culture, even our Christian culture, that almost no one questions it. Why should they? Almost every Christian I know, including pastors, plan to retire themselves, so certainly, they aren’t going to raise a ruckus about it.
A Warning We do have these two stories that every Christian should take seriously before considering a traditional retirement.
The first is the story of the Rich Fool in Luke 12: 13-21, this man had all he needed and more, so rather than give away his surplus and spend his last days pouring into others, he built bigger barns and took it easy.
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:18-21
Rather than use his wealth and remaining time on earth to bless others, he planned his selfish retirement. I’ve made this statement many times, “It’s the goal of almost every Christian I know to retire and kill time pleasantly in warm places.”
So, why is it most Christians who read this story, don’t see themselves guilty of this man’s sin? Because successful, older Christians tend to give generously or plan to do so out of their estate when they die and perhaps serve on a couple boards of ministries. But they’ve missed the real point of this story. The rich fool planned to use most of his wealth to relax and enjoy life for himself, as if what they have belongs to them, rather than God.
Another Story “Then he told this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
This story speaks directly to the sin of failing to be fruitful. And when this fig tree failed to bear much fruit, it was cut down. Jesus told this story to warn us of the what would happen if we did not live fruitful lives for the kingdom.
The problem is, almost every Christian I know thinks they are bearing fruit even if they only throw $5 in the offering plate and volunteer in the children’s ministry on Wednesday nights. These guys in Florida thought attending a Bible Study was a ministry! I told them that attending Bible studies is preparation for ministry, not a ministry itself unless you are the one who organizes or leads it. (They had to think about that.)
My Thoughts I think the idea of retiring from a full time job to relax a little more is fine. But our life is not our own. Christians belong to Jesus, and I believe any Christian who uses the majority of their new found time, just goofing off while they still have health and energy that could be used to advance Jesus’ kingdom agenda, is committing the sin Jesus describes in these two stories. That’s not a popular position, but how else can Christians interpret these two parables?
I’m 70 years old. People keep asking me when I’m going to retire. I only work four days a week, and I’m confident if God gives me another 10-20 years, I’ll slow up for health reasons or to care for my wife if she needs it, but I have no retirement plans. I want my next office to be my casket!
How following Jesus works in real life.
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