Should I Save For Retirement or Give that Money Instead?

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Editor’s note: I wrote this article a long time ago (August).  I’ve never been closer to pulling an article off my posting schedule (I’m writing this within three hours of posting time).  In some posts, like this one, I try to challenge your thinking without necessarily dictating an action for you.  I’m trying to challenge traditional thinking in light of the gospel.  If your thinking was stimulated, then this article is a success. 

The reason I feel increasingly uncomfortable with this post is because if people (without consideration of their specific situation) followed the tenants in this post it could be very detrimental to their personal financial situation.  What this post may mean to you is determined by your debt level, how long you’ve been investing, and how much you have saved.  Providing for your family is necessary so that you do not become a burden to the church.  If you have not saved enough for retirement it is quite acceptable to save more than you give. 

Think about this post as a challenge to the status quo, not an action I’m advising every Christian to go out and follow.  Ultimately I decided to publish the post because I’m trusting my readers are mature enough to get new information, evaluate it, and apply it to their own lives in a way that honors God.

In a two part article I asked the question Is it Biblical to Save for Retirement.  I agree with the fundamentals of that article.  It is appropriate for Christians to save.  It is a blessing to both families and churches when we save.  However, I am reconsidering the question how much should I contributed towards retirement.

The probing question is –

Should I be saving more for my future retirement than I am currently contributing to God’s present work of the Kingdom of God?

photo by Mykl Roventine

How we frame a question gets us halfway to the answer so I want to point out the six words I intentionally put in comparison:

Group #1: My vs God’s
Group #2: Future vs. Present
Group #3: Retirement vs. Kingdom of God

My Vs. God’s

In some ways Group #1 could misrepresent reality.  It depends on your understanding of retirement.  Are you saving for yourself as a means to an end, or are you saving for yourself in order to:

  1. Provide for your family
  2. Remove yourself as a burden to the church
  3. Help others in need. 

Depending on your theological understanding of retirement, it may or may not ultimately be for yourself.

Future Vs. Present

Group #2 is the most challenging word group for me.  One of the key differences between the wealthy and the poor is their view of money.  For the poor, money is for today because money is a tool of survival.  For the rich, money is a resource used to be invested and grown.  Thus, money is for tomorrow.  As Christians we know our future is unknown.  James writes:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15 NIV)

Granted, James is not talking about ignoring tomorrow, but he does want to acknowledge that ‘tomorrow’ is God’s decision – not our own. 

There is an immediacy to the presentation of the gospel.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:2 NIV)

Said another way, the harvest is ready.  Fruit and agricultural harvesting is time sensitive; if you delay, the fruit will be lost.  There is much evangelistic work to be done today and my disproportionate focus on tomorrow may have negative implications for today. 

There is an immediacy to the issues of poverty.

Bread for the World reports:

1.02 billion people across the world are hungry.

Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes–one child every five seconds.

Why focus sole on my tomorrow when the ‘today’ of so many has an immediate need?

Retirement vs. Kingdom of God

Again, I’m putting these two items against each other so the differences are highlighted.  As I said regarding group #1, these two things are not necessarily pitted against each other depending on your mindset as to the reason and function of retirements savings.  In fact, I would say the Kingdom of God can be advanced by Christians who are responsible with their finances.  In fact, if I misappropriate my funds today I may hinder the work of the Kingdom of God by becoming a burden to the church.

What is the solution?

After dealing honestly with this issue my conclusion (a personal decision for myself) is that I cannot continue to contribute more to tomorrow’s retirement than I do to today’s work in the kingdom of God. 

Coming into 2010 my wife and I made some adjustments to what I thought was a lack of balance between our giving and my saving for retirement.  I felt like at the least those two amounts should be equal.  So we now give as much as we save for retirement.  This was not a decision made by guilt or legalism.  But, because of our relationship with God we felt compelled by the love of Christ to make a change.

Most financial advisors suggest we save 10 – 15% of our income towards retirement.  Many Christians give 10% while ministers and others suggest we give even more.   You’ll need to find your right saving balance.

Lord willing, God will open the door in the future that our giving will far exceed my saving, but as for today in my financial situation I want to ensure that at the very least I am not giving more to retirement then I am to God’s Kingdom Work.

Editor’s note: I wrote this article a long time ago (August).  However, I didn’t realize that it would be posted so closely to other “counter cultural” posts.  In many posts, like this one, I try to challenge our thinking without dictating action for you.  I figure there are a lot of sources out there that will give you the best financial advice only.  I’m trying to balance that by challenging traditional thinking in light of the gospel.  If your thinking was stimulated, then this article is a success. 

Anyone else have thoughts about the relationship between retirement dollars and giving dollars?  Any reflections?

Comments

  1. jarthurford says

    I suppose the tension will always exist. The closer I get to retirement, the more urgent savings seems. At the same time events like Haiti earthquake bring to the surface the overwhelming need to reach out with God’s heart today.

    It’s not all an either or situation. The best option is to do both as my heart and conscience (informed by the Word) guide me.

    I also recognize that a part of what I’m saving for is to be able to continue to give to tomorrow’s needs. In the same way that we work so we can help others, we save so we will be able to help others. I do believe that will only happen tomorrow if I’m doing it already, though.

    I have determined that a substantial portion (in my mind) of my small estate will be given to the work of the kingdom, even though it is just giving what is left over after my own needs are met (which I is not the standard I usually follow). Even so, I pray that this will honor God.

    Enough rambling.

  2. says

    I completely agree with the comment above, the tension will always exist.

    Personally, I’m not comfortable with the special status of “retirement” money vs. other savings. It’s all savings, and maybe that makes the debate clearer by removing any exaggerated virtue we might attach to retirement. I think God looks at our resources as a total–the segregation is what we add for our own comfort.

    The pastor of our church addressed this issue by calling it all “margin”–the extra we have available. Income, savings, retirement, physical assets–they’re all margin. It helps if we remove the dividers before we start assessing the spiritual aspects of money, and only then can we have an honest discussion.

    I’ve known people who thought of themselves as “poor” or middle class because they had “no money”–apart from a million dollar house or a $500,000 retirement account. I doubt God sees it quite the way they do.

    This really depends on where you’re at financially. A person who’s well off by objective standards probably doesn’t need to worry too much about retirement, he can then give far more to the Church. A poorer person, who could conceivably struggle in old age probably needs to focus more resources on retirement. But again, it’s all savings.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Buying vs Renting a Home – Its Not All About Money =-.

  3. says

    Craig – I don’t think you need to make any apologies. As Christians, we cannot understand proper financial planning without proper money theology.

    I think it’s good for us to be jostled a bit from our traditional views of money to see what God has in store for us finanically.

    I am currently wrestling with a passage from Luke 12, verses 13-34 and am asking myself these same questions.

    I like your balanced approach to give as much as you save. I think that’s a pretty good principle to go with. Too many of us go from one extreme to the other.

    As a friend reminded me recently: The money saved in a retirement account can be used for kingdom purposes IN RETIREMENT – it doesn’t mean that just because you saved a bunch of money in those accounts that you have to use them for yourself.
    .-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..Are Humans Programmed to Fail Financially? =-.

  4. Gholmes says

    Craig I appreciate you sharing your testimony on same % for retirement as % giving. Gives me some food for thought.

    I will echo @Jason thought that I too don’t view my retirement account as solely to be used on me.

  5. Lan Kwon says

    As I read about the rich young ruler and the widow’s mite, I wonder if God wants us to give it all. I mean that He means for us to have no savings and rely on him. I hear so much about people who gave away to God their last dollar and how much God rewarded them miraculously. I wonder if all of this means He wants us to rely on Him and give it all away. I am going to test Him on this. After all He says to test Him on tithings and offerings. Anybody else test Him like this before?

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