Is the Rich Fool the Modern Day Retiree?

Print Friendly

I believe that we all know the story of the ‘rich fool’ (Luke 12:13-21).

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a sermon podcast by John Piper (Let’s Be Rich Toward God), and I got the most unpleasant feeling in my stomach.  He correctly noted that the problem with the rich fool was that he stored up riches for himself and was not rich towards God.

Part of the issue is the man’s approach, attitude, and desire for ‘his’ surplus.

Luke 12:19

And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

Modern Day Retirement

Here’s how I’ve always interpreted the modern day Western view of retirement:

You work hard for an extended period until you have enough money saved up so you can stop working and take it easy enjoying hobbies like golf, travel, and visiting family.

No one ever taught me that, but in my early 20′s, that was the impression I had of retirement.

That’s why I started rethinking retirement and trying to decide if I ought to reduce my nest egg.

Imagine my deep discomfort when I began to realize that our cultural idea of retirement mirrors the thoughts and attitudes of the rich fool.

He stored up enough so he could eat, drink and be merry.

Self satisfaction.  Self indulgence. Self centeredness.

We find ourselves in a dangerous place when we believe we ought to store up wealth to allow a season of taking life easy, eating, drinking, and being merry.

Is this the duty of man?  Is this the Christian response to a God who gave everything?

It is not possible that our full barns breed one thing – independence?

God fears our independent attitude.  He fears it not for himself (it is not a fear of rejection), but for a deep loving care for us.  He knows that our attitude of independence (independence from God) is a destroying attitude.  He feared it when the Israelites were preparing to enter the promised land.

Deut. 6:10-12

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

In Luke 12:30, we are told that the pagan world runs after such things.

What things?

What will I eat? What will I wear?

It is pagan to make the focus of our lives ‘such things’.  The focus, the desire, and the pursuit of our lives must the be the glory of God.  To give him all praise, honor, and glory.

Generosity as a Retirement Plan

I believe that God has a divine scale of justice.  I believe that those of us who are Christians must ‘use’ generosity as a part of our own retirement planning.

The generous should be more confident in their retirement with a smaller bank balance than the greedy with a larger bank balance.

Why?

Because they have balanced being rich towards God and saving.  The story of the rich man seems to indicate it is possible to do both – store up and be rich towards God.

Though the generous may have less in the bank, they have more confidence that even if all that is taken away, God will provide.  How can they have such confidence?

  1. They’ve seen God provide in their times of greatest need.
  2. They genuinely believe passages like Luke 6:38 that the measure they have offered to others, God will offer to them.
  3. They know their true retirement is safe – safe in a place where moths and rust cannot destroy.

While saving for retirement, we must be rich towards God. He must always remain our hope.  Our confidence is not in pennies and notes.  A terrible economic event could wipe that away in a moment.  Our hope is in the God who always provides (in his way) for his people.  We use our energy for God’s good and not our own indulgence.  We give knowing that, by giving, we secure a more stable future than by saving.

The challenge is to do both.

To save for retirement, without putting our hope in that retirement.  To save for retirement, while being rich towards God.  To save for retirement, knowing the true value of what we have is what we’ve given.  We save for retirement so God can use us more fully in his Kingdom – not so we can eat, drink and be merry.

While building your barns, don’t forget to be rich towards God.

Comments

    • says

      Josh,

      What a great challenge – for all of us. I guess we should all ask when entertainment becomes self indulgence. When resting becomes sloth. Some difficult questions no matter where we are in live. Ultimately, we need to point our lives in the direction of the cross and give our fully energy for the glorification of Christ.

      Thanks.

  1. Danny Reese says

    Craig, I’ve had these same thoughts and discussed them with many people, but I almost always get blank stares in response. People think I’m crazy for suggesting that the rich man mirrors retirement to a tee. So I appreciate you writing about it. You take a more moderate tack than I have… “The challenge is to do both.” So far I haven’t convinced myself of the need to do both, but I’m open to persuasion.

    • says

      Danny,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. Yes, this is a topic that not many people are willing to honestly consider.

      Here’s why I challenge people to do both:
      1. Luke 12:21 – the warning is for those who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich towards God. A simple way I’ve applied that in my life is that I won’t save more for retirement than I give to others (but there was a time when I saved more than I gave). I don’t think Jesus is challenging us to make an either/or choice, but both/and. Be sure that while you’re saving for the future that you aren’t neglecting to be rich towards God.
      2. Paul seems to indicate that it is Christ-like for us to make arrangements so we’re not to be a (financial) burden to the church. One way I make sure those who are truly in need receive the blessing of the church is by ensuring that I’m not consuming church resources. This is part of our ministry to those truly in need (1 Tim. 5:16 and 1 Thess. 2:9). I feel like I’d be violating this principle if I didn’t save for retirement and then expected the church to provide for me when I get older.

      To be clear, I believe that the church should gladly provide for people who make giving a priority and don’t have enough saved for retirement.

      Ultimately the goal is to be rich towards God.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • Danny Reese says

        Thanks for the reply.

        Your point 2) is a good point.

        Point 1) I still struggle with, because it requires us to add our own interpretation of what “rich toward God” means. From the story itself, I have no clue what actions or motives in the rich man’s life were godly or ungodly. He may well have tithed regularly and given to the poor for all I know. As far as the text goes, the only thing I know he did was store up for his own selfish (indulgent) use. And that in itself seems to be what Jesus labels as the opposite of being rich toward God. In other words, from the story’s perspective, being “rich toward God” doesn’t seem to mean being generous, etc., but rather means not storing up for yourself.

        Your decision to give more than you save seems wise to me. Taking the same idea further (hard to do in practice, but easy enough to theorize about, at least) leads us to the option of giving all the would-be retirement money to people who need it now. The world will always have people who could not or did not save retirement money for themselves, and they still need their daily bread. Give the money to those who need it now, trusting that when our time comes, God will still provide, probably through his church. But we have no guarantee that we will need retirement funds (and hence, no guarantee that we will be a burden on the church). What will I say, after having saved a nest egg, when God requires my life from me at age 55? I think I know what God will say to me: “You fool, who now will get the money you saved up for yourself?” But I don’t know what my reply will be.

        When evaluating our future needs and the current needs of others, we run into a common human problem. We tend to sorely overestimate our needs, while sorely underestimating the needs of others, even the needs that are being played out right now before our very eyes. I’m still struggling with how to correct the imbalance in my own life.

        • says

          Danny,
          Thanks for the conversation. It’s helping me grow in my understanding of the subject.

          I agree that the text doesn’t exactly define what being rich towards God is. Thus, the interpreters task is to be brave enough to identify what being rich towards God is. Of course, our interpretation must agree with the text.

          Thus, here’s some of my suggestions:
          * Being rich towards God is avoiding covetousness (12:15)
          * It is realizing and living with the understanding that life does not consist of the abundance of our possessions (12:15)
          * It is acting differently that a person who would be so occupied with his inheritance (12:13)
          * Is is characterized by a person who is no anxious about what they will eat or drink (12:22)
          * It is a person who recognizes that God provides today and tomorrow (12:28)
          * It is a person who seeks his kingdom (12:31)

          Of course there is more to it. But, then we each must decide how we’ll handle our finances in a way that shows our richness towards God.

          I completely agree with your point that most of us have mastered the art fo caring for ourselves while neglecting to care for others. God most certainly wants to move use out of the center point of our lives.

          May God bless you in your ministry.

  2. Charlene Roberson says

    Great comparison. I’ve always thought of saving for retirement as building up enough savings to care for myself when I’m too old and rickety to earn enough on my own…perhaps because I come from a Far Eastern culture where planning for retirement means making sure your children are successful so they can support you when you are older, and because I have not appreciated the decisions many members of my parents’ generation have made with that end goal in mind.

    All that to say, the thought of waiting until retirement to enjoy life has always seemed a ludicrous idea, because life is so unpredictable and we have no guarantee that we’ll live to a ripe old age in any case.

    • says

      Charlene,
      Great comment.
      I do think we all need to have a realistic sense of how much is enough for retirement. We just need our daily bread not a jet or a multi-million dollar inheritance.

      In Papua New Guinea retirement is the same. You support your kids so they can support you.

      I think all of life we should balance elements of learning, working, and playing (http://www.moneyhelpforchristians.com/retirement-planning-retirement-goal-life/). Unfortunately, most people think we should have a seasons of learning (school years), working, and then play (retirement). If we do all of these throughout our lives then retirement looks the same as our working years.

  3. says

    This is good food for thought (and prayer). I’m honestly not sure what I think at first blush. What if you are saving to avoid being a burden on your children, church or community? Not for luxury and idleness, but you save for the necessities not fulling knowing what they could be. By saving aggressively early, you can mitigate your future income requirements and open doors to accepting low or no pay service opportunities. Does your message change with the intention of the saver?

    • says

      Margot,

      As long as this post caused you to prayerfully reflect on your situation then I’d say it is a success.

      The focus here is not to encourage people not to save. I think we should continue to do so. However, we need to be sure that in the process we are being rich towards God and also to be sure that our motive is not to have everything we need to eat, and drink so we can be lazy.

      In your case the motives (which is always the most important) are not from greed or sloth.

      The caution is to be sure we are giving just as aggressively as saving as a sign of our recognition that what we give is a more important investment in our future.

  4. Wes Smith says

    There are people at our congregation who I admire greatly. They have been able to retire from their jobs but they work hard in retirement as well. The difference is now they work very diligently for the Lord. They do not follow the traditional definition of retirement and I think their approach is very pleasing to God. If there is a day I don’t have to work for a salary, I want to work more for the Lord and serving others in my congregation and community.

    • says

      Wes,
      I think that you’re onto something. Most retirees I know don’t want to sit around all day and play golf (or whatever). They know that is not the life God has called them to. It’s probably more people in my generation creating a fictitious notion of what retirement is like. Fortunately, God made us to be active and inactivity for many is not rewarding to self or the Kingdom.
      Whatever God has in store for us I pray that we always use whatever resources of time, money, and energy for his Glory.

  5. says

    Great post, Craig!
    I found your blog from looking at the links on Christianpf.com.
    My wife and I go to church at Gateway in Southlake, TX and one of our associate pastors spoke today. This was the EXACT title of his message – “Rich towards God”.
    He didn’t make the comparison to retirement like you do in your post, but I do agree with you. Plus there is nothing quite like the joy of giving!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *