For many, “the good life” is a comfortable existence until age 65 and then a carefree existence thereafter. Retirement is “the promised land” where work is over and years of self-indulgence, travel, and relaxation await. Unfortunately, few give any thought to whether or not the Scriptures speak to that modern idea of retirement. They do.
Consider Luke 12:13–21. A man complains to Jesus that his brother is hoarding a family inheritance—the very sort of controversy that continues to divide families in our day! Jesus isn’t impressed by the complaint or the man’s request that He intervene. Instead Christ suggests that he is both greedy and shallow, warning him against covetousness and telling him that the essence of one’s life has nothing to do with his possessions (12:15). He then tells a parable that has “the American Dream” written all over it (12:16–21).
A wealthy farmer had been blessed with more than he needed. His barns (and bank accounts, if you will) were full (12:16). Yet, in a scene right out of the book of Ecclesiastes, the man refused to enjoy or share his substance and instead was troubled by his inability to amass even more (12:17). Finally, he determined to tear down his perfectly good barns and build others that would be larger (12:18). Why? What was his goal? His own words provide the answer:
“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (12:19).
Having “ample goods laid up for many years” may be prudent (Prov 6:6–11; 30:25). However, the man’s desire wasn’t merely to be secure and avoid burdening others; it was selfishness. “Relax,” he said. “Eat, drink, be merry.” In other words, live like a workaholic today in order to live like a hedonist tomorrow.
Rather than commending the man, God called him a fool and vowed to take his life that very evening (12:20). His plan to heap up treasure for future use—especially because it revealed his selfishness and self-reliance—brought Christ’s condemnation (12:21).
Of course, retiring from “the work force” isn’t a bad thing. If your pension, social security, and/or investments allow you to live without working for a normal salary, wonderful! Retire. Just don’t retire to a life of golf, gardening, and grandkids. Most retirees have many years—indeed, decades—of usefulness ahead of them. Begin planning now to use them for the good of Christ’s church! Here are some suggestions:
- Help your church with administration, maintenance, secretarial duties, visitation, or discipleship. Look for opportunities to use the very skills that served you so well in your career in the local church. Ask your pastor where you can have an impact.
- Invest yourself in younger believers. Befriend them. Disciple them. Pray for them. Teach them how to budget or parent or teach. Allow the church to benefit from your years of walking with Christ. (cf. Prov 16:31; 20:29; Titus 2:3ff.)
- Think even more radically: move and help a church planter. Move abroad and help a missionary. Indeed, move abroad and be a missionary!
Whatever specific ministry (or ministries!) you pursue, resist the mindset that says the goal of life is to work now and play later—both for Christ’s sake and for your own. Many a retiree has stopped working only to fall into an emotional, spiritual, or physical funk. There’s a reason for that. God created us to be productive for His glory. The church needs the ministry of retirees, and retirees need to minister.
Retirees, use your newfound freedom to serve the Lord! Retire from your job, not from life or ministry. Workers, minister now and plan to minister with an even greater focus when the Lord allows you to stop working 40-plus hours a week for your employer. Finally, pastors, teach your flock that their greatest usefulness may actually lie ahead: help them plan for their futures with an open mind and an open Bible. Help them rethink retirement.
“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in September 2008. It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.