Should Christians Save for Retirement?

When a man retires at sixty-five, studies show his chances of having a fatal heart attack immediately double. Our minds and bodies weren’t made to be shut down. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God calling healthy people to stop working. So before we think about saving for retirement, we should reexamine our thinking about retirement itself. How much of what we think and assume is based on our culture, and how much is really based on God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit?

Of course, it’s perfectly legitimate to work without pay. You might donate labor to ministries and volunteer. But as long as God has us in this world, He has work for us to do. The hours may be shorter, the work different, the pay lower or nonexistent. But He doesn’t want us to take still-productive minds and bodies and permanently lay them on a beach, lose them on a golf course, or lock them in a dark living room watching game shows.

Is saving large amounts of money for retirement as essential as we’re constantly told? Paul commended the Macedonian believers, not for clinging to the little they had, but for giving beyond their means (2 Corinthians 8:3‑5).

The Macedonian Christians had virtually no material things, yet they gave beyond their means to the point of leaving themselves impoverished. If they didn’t need to think of tomorrow, why do we—with all our material wealth—need to be so concerned about storing up earthly treasures for thirty years from now?

I’m not saying we can’t use or shouldn’t have a retirement plan. I do. But as God’s children, we need to think differently about them. Our brothers and sisters in other ages didn’t have them, and neither do most non-American Christians today. Yet they’ve found God absolutely sufficient to meet their needs. Usually the wealthy are most consumed by retirement planning simply because they have the resources to think in those terms.

I agree with Larry Burkett’s assessment of the saving-for-retirement obsession:

Retirement planning so dominates the thinking of Christians who have sizable incomes that they overkill in this area enormously. The fear of doing without in the future causes many Christians to rob God’s work of the very funds he has provided. These monies are tucked away in retirement accounts for twenty to forty years. God’s Word does not prohibit but rather encourages saving for the future, including retirement (Proverbs 6:6-11; 21:20), but the example of the rich fool, given by the Lord in Luke 12:16-20, should be a clear direction that God’s balance is “when in doubt—give; don’t hoard.” (How to Use Your Money Wisely)

As I share in my book Money, Possessions, and Eternity, we must ask the same question about our retirement savings as all savings. Is this reasonable planning, exercising foresight as Proverbs commends? Or is it an alternative to trusting God, a backup in case God doesn’t come through? How is maintaining a generous retirement plan fundamentally different from the rich fool storing up for his later years to live out his life in comfort and security? We know what Jesus thought of that man’s retirement plans (Luke 12:16-21). Why should we assume He thinks differently about ours? We should study this passage and compare our attitudes, behavior (including giving), and plans for the future to that man’s, and ask how different we are from him. If there’s no difference, obviously we need to change something.

What would happen if I took part, most, or all of the funds I would otherwise put into retirement and invested them in God’s kingdom? Financial counselors would tell me that I would be “jeopardizing my retirement years.” Might God say I would be “enhancing my eternal years”? If I waste the money, spend it, or am just a poor planner, that’s one thing. But will God really fail me if I invest these funds in His kingdom in an honest effort to obey His words in Matthew 6:19-21 and many other passages?

I realize this is a troubling and threatening question. Believe me, it bothers me to ask it. Although my retirement savings account may be small by American standards, it’s still enough to keep many people alive and reach many people with the gospel. Nanci and I decided a while back to take out some retirement funds and give them to God’s kingdom. But we still have a significant amount left. Some day we may give more of it away, or none of it, or all of it. I don’t know. But I do know we must ask God, because it belongs to Him, not us.

I know missionaries who so believed in their work training young believers in Europe that they cashed out their retirement funds and gave them all to the ministry. Many Christians would shake their heads and say, “How foolish.” But if God commended the widow for giving away her last two pennies, wouldn’t He commend these missionaries who—even without retirement savings—have many more financial resources than the widow could have dreamed of? Isn’t their action consistent with Christ’s promise that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . . all these things shall be added to you”? (Matthew 6:33, NKJV) Were these missionaries fools? I don’t believe they were. God doesn’t honor lack of foresight and failure to plan or wastefully spending now what we should save for later. But He does honor His children who trust Him even when it involves risks.

The rich fool never had the opportunity to use the money and possessions he stockpiled for himself. Will our own excess funds hoarded for the future one day become as filled with worms as Israel’s hoarded manna? We don’t know whether Christ will return in our lifetime. But He certainly will return in the lifetime of some Christians. We also know this: All money stored in retirement funds, savings, insurance policies, houses, real estate, and personal possessions will become eternally useless the moment Christ returns. If the countless billions of dollars now invested in earthly accounts were freed up and poured into helping the needy and fulfilling the Great Commission, what eternal impact might result?

So how much is too much to save for retirement? I can’t answer that question for you. I have a hard enough time trying to figure it out for myself. But I do know that each of us should ask God because the money we are dealing with belongs to Him, not us. We should shut out the distracting noises of the world, tune our ears to God’s Word, and quietly listen for His answer.

If we consider “our” retirement funds off limits to God, we’re pretending to be owners rather than God’s money managers. When we ask God’s direction for our lives, we need to lay everything on the table. Whatever posture I take with financial planning must leave room—a great deal of room—for God.

You might like to also check out an Ask Pastor John episode, “Should I Invest for Retirement?”, as well as Piper’s book Rethinking Retirement.  

Photo: Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries