Is it Biblical to Save for Retirement? Part I

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In the context of a discussion about retirement, Matt Dabbs asked the question, where do you find the balance?

On one extreme, you have people who work so hard to prepare themselves for retirement that they are basically working themselves out of needing to depend on God. On the other side, you have people who do nothing and then might be a burden on their family. Where do you find the balance? Matt Dabs @ Kingdom Living

I thought about posting a response, but then decided my answer would be way too long for a comment.  I decided a post here at Money Help for Christians would be better.  This post will deal specifically with the financial aspect of this discussion.  There is much to be said about the emotional and spiritual impact of retirement, but that is outside the scope of this discussion.

Photo by ellievanhoutte

Are there any Biblical passages that appear to refer to saving as a negative practice?

“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24, NIV)

In an agricultural society survival was linked to land.  No land means no produce.  No produce means no crop.  And no crop means no food.  Thus, Jesus’ missionary movement is hindered by those who choose ‘false security’ (a full storeroom) over ‘true security’ (the Father’s ability to provide). Ministry cannot be stopped because of an unfounded lack of security.  For most of the North American population the relationship between land and sustenance is no longer applicable.  People have the ability to travel around the world without that impacting their ability to eat.  Thus, staying home is no longer more secure than going away.

The focus of this passage is that God is the provider of all things.  Security is found in him alone.  We think our hands have earned and provided, but they have not.  In light of the entire Biblical witness I do not believe Jesus is recommending his followers never save.  He instead suggests we not make saving (false security) a priority over trusting in God to provide (true security). Jesus himself said that man does not live on bread alone (Mt. 4:4).  Said another way, man does live on bread, but not bread alone.

For those who assume this passage refers to something like not saving for anything, I challenge you to consider some of the appliances in your own home.  A fridge is designed to preserve food.  A canned item allows for saving.  These items are not necessary for a person who refuses to save.

There is no doubt that our trust can be in ‘things’.  Personally, this has been the greatest blessing of the 2008 financial debacle. What emotions did I experience seeing those dollars drop drastically?  Did my heart reflect a concern that I would not be provided for, or was I able to remind myself that God is in control?

“And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things 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 anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:16-21, NIV)

In light of this story I want to introduce an unhealthy savings extreme.  This is called “hoarding.” Hoarding is an insatiable acquisition of things.  ‘Enough’ has no place in the vocabulary of a hoarder.  A hoarder is closed-handed and has an inward selfish concern.  I would say the man in the story above was not a saver, but rather a hoarder.  His foolishness is that he was exclusively storing up for himself without any generosity towards God.  This makes him a fool.  He thought that man lives only on bread.  He saved apart from generosity.  He felt he could secure himself by the acquisition and storage of things.  His trust, ultimately, was misplaced.  Our trust should instead be in God.

” “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)

Earthly treasures do not and will not last.  Earthly treasures play a role in physical survival, but they do not offer eternal salvation.  The fool confuses that which is eternal and that which is temporary.  One who treasures items will focus on saving while neglecting generosity because the fool thinks saving is the only thing of value.  One who stores up earthy treasure without any realization or regard for an eternal treasure (goodwill towards men) will surely find their savings are ultimately lost. If your life is tied up in what you own (have saved), your hope will be destroyed.  It is entirely possible to save money without those savings becoming your heart’s treasure.

Are there biblical examples where saving is a positive action?

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8, NIV)

“Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” (Proverbs 13:11, NIV)

“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” (Proverbs 21:20, NIV)

The proverbs are typically self explanatory.  These three are no exception.  Of course, there are many other proverbs I could include in this list, but I only include these three for the sake of space.  The proverbs describe two types of people – the fool and the wise person.  The wise person is the one who stores, who saves, and who looks ahead to future needs.  The fool thinks only about today.

In the story of Joseph (Gen 37-50) one of Joseph’s admirable qualities was his ability to save in times of plenty for times of need:

“During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.” (Genesis 41:47-49, NIV)

This was, in fact, why Joseph claims God sent him ahead of his family to Egypt.  His saving resulting in the  physical salvation for his family – God’s chosen line.

““Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12, NIV)

This passage is about a lot more than handling money.  Still, the principle of this passage can be appropriately applied to money.  All we have belongs to God.  God entrusts us with money expecting it to be handled properly. Savings, as described in the Proverbs, is a God-honoring way to handle money. God wants to be sure that our money is used to provide for the needs of our family and used to provide for the needs of others.

What do you think?  Do you save for retirement?  Why or why not?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part II of this discussion.

Comments

  1. Edith StAlbord says

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights on this topic, it is a topic that is not taught on often enough in churches, with an expectation for Christians to live by. We need to have a spirutual prospective on Money whether we have have a lot or a little, it boil down to trusting God .

    Have a Blesses Day!!!

  2. Monin A. Barlaan says

    Thank you for a very clear and valuable insight into the subject of saving the Biblical way. I will share this with my church congregation during Bible Study an Im sure everyone will benefit from what they will learn. I will also recommend your blog to those who have computers where I live right now – the Philippines.

  3. Nic Ellis says

    thanks for the informative topic. I think people are so occupied with their needs and their future needs that they give very little and tithe very little. I think that people work way to much and to hard and have no time or energy to give either. There are folks who have very menial jobs that they can’t save anything and never will retire. I see that people who can save are judgmental on the rest that just can’t. It seems our savings to many implies our level of intelligence and success in this world. It is like another career in itself. Its simply another possession we earned and rely on.
    Everything is given to us by God and to some HE gave much and to others very little. God sees the one who is more dependent on God as the wealthier.

    (:

    • says

      Nic,
      I think we are all definitely preoccupied with our own needs. It’s really hard to risk our financial security for the sake of others. At least I should admit that it’s hard for me. But, you’re right, that is the goal that we should all stive towards.

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