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Written by Don Walter
From his column A Minute with Donminute-with-don-05-15-1

As I’ve had opportunity to talk with people about retirement plans over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of interesting ideas. Inevitably, as ministers talk about this subject, the topic of the “biblical perspective” on retirement is mentioned. And, as such, this usually means the individual is absolutely convinced that his/her “biblical” position (whatever that may be) is the only accurate position—end of story, case closed. Having been in this line of work for more than three decades, I’ve heard a wide range of “biblical” concepts. Here are some of them.

Manna from Heaven

The “Manna” perspective goes something like this: God has promised to supply our daily needs, much like the Israelites wandering through the wilderness; thus, it would be an affront to God for us to store provisions today for tomorrow’s needs. This view most often is espoused by those who’ve not taken the time to think much about the future, and who have neglected to plan for retirement. Unfortunately, these folks seem to forget that at some point following the wilderness wandering, the manna stopped. They also gloss over the fact that this was a special provision of God’s care to fulfill His grand plan of salvation.

It’s a bit of a stretch for any of us to believe we are in a situation akin to that of the wandering Israelites. And yet, this is one of the more popular notions I’ve encountered. I should also note that I’ve lived long enough to see this as a less than reliable method for funding retirement. In general, those embracing this position have experienced a rocky retirement or changed perspectives as their income increased.

Jesus Never Retired

One of the more interesting perspectives is the one I call the “Jesus didn’t retire” approach. It takes on various forms, but in most cases it is touted by those who are convinced the Bible does not endorse retirement; therefore, one need not plan for it. This approach conveniently ignores modern demographics. Most notably that people in today’s non-agrarian societies outlive their value in the employment pool. In times when life expectancies were less than 50 years, and there was always more work to be done than strong backs to do it, planning on living into one’s nineties was absurd. And in those times, persons who happened to live that long often did so in poverty or in complete dependency on their family and society.

It might be good to remember that some of Jesus’ final words were instructions to his beloved disciple to care for His mother. Then, as today, the life expectancy of females was greater than that of males, and Jesus’ mother already was a widow. Just as a parent would have been concerned for the welfare of a dependent son or daughter, so an adult child, like Jesus, would have been concerned for the welfare of His mother. This need today would generally be addressed by both life insurance and retirement planning.

So for those who take the approach that retirement shouldn’t be considered because it isn’t mentioned in biblical narratives, it is good to remember that many situations in modern society are not modeled in the Bible. Examples are too numerous to catalog here, but for sake of illustration, try picturing Luke the Apostle explaining to a teenage son the dangers of texting while driving.

Moth and Rust

Another perspective is the “Moth and Rust.” This mode takes literally the instruction “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be (Mt 6:19-21). This is, of course, a variation of the “Manna” philosophy with a New Testament twist.

Unfortunately, this angle conveniently overlooks the hyperbolic teaching style (as well as the main point) of the rest of the passage where Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt 6:22-24). It really is a statement about Lordship and priorities. Ultimately, it speaks to what should be our main (as opposed to our only) source of reliance for life’s provisions. It is instruction on how to live in a both/and situation, not an either/or commandment.

Wisdom of Joseph

Finally, I've encountered the prudent, biblically sound perspective which is both practical and attentive to the context of our lives. It is sometimes illustrated by the story of Joseph in Egypt when he interpreted Pharoah’s vision of the seven lean and seven fat years. Our friend Jerald D. Johnson has written a wonderful piece on this passage and retirement planning, available here, on the instruction in Proverbs 6:6-8 which calls us to “consider the ant” who stores up food during the harvest because winter is coming. (I also find it interesting that the wise ant is noted as “she.” It is frequently the female spouse in our seminars who shows the most interest in future planning, no doubt for obvious demographic reasons.) My friend O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of Guidestone Financial Resources, has written a helpful booklet titled Antology which also expounds on this passage.

The biblical narrative is clear: God’s people live in the tension between two worlds. While, indeed, we are citizens of the other-worldly Kingdom of God, we live our lives within the context of society as we await the Kingdom’s fulfillment. With that in mind, we would be wise to face the realities of life and, as scripture often instructs, pay attention and prepare for what lies ahead—spiritually and financially.

So what’s your retirement plan? Even though we never truly “retire” from the call of God, we recognize the difference between a vocational call and a spiritual gift. One day the vocational work of ministry will give way to us needing to sustain our spiritual gift with the prudence of planning carried out during our more financially productive years.

 

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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