Our culture promotes the goal of retirement as this: to pursue a life filled with leisure. But is this a biblical goal?
While people are physically and mentally capable, there is no scriptural basis for retiring and becoming unproductive—the concept of putting an older, able person “out to pasture.” Numbers 8:24-26 is the only reference to retirement in the Bible, and it applied specifically to the Levites working in the tabernacle. I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but I’m guessing not too many of us are Levites serving in the tabernacle these days!
In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus strongly rebukes the notion of a life of leisure and ease: “I [the rich fool] will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!’” (Luke 12:19-20). A proper amount of time spent in leisure is important and pleases God, but it’s unhealthy if it becomes the focus of our life.
The Bible does imply, however, that the type or intensity of labor may change as we grow older. During this season of life, we can use the experience and wisdom gained over a lifetime and shift gears to a less demanding pace to become more like the “elder seated at the gate” or the “older women . . . [who] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure . . .” (Titus 2:3-5).
Carefully read what Peter said toward the end of his life…
“I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind” (2 Peter 1:13-15).
Do the words “stir you up” and “diligent” give even the slightest hint of retirement? On the contrary, they communicate an active life.
Toward the end of his life, the apostle Paul had to make a similar decision. “Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:22-24, emphasis added).
Paul could have disobeyed the Lord to pursue a safer, more comfortable life. After all, he had suffered as an apostle. He might have put his feet up in some Mediterranean villa, sipping on a cool drink and watching the clouds float by. But he had seen the risen Christ face to face, and that experience had changed him forever. It was infinitely more important to him to faithfully complete his God-given task—even if that meant the certainty of prison and the risk of death.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent time on Contentment, Choice and Ownership. Our lives are not our own. Don’t let age stop you from finishing the work God has called you to accomplish. He will provide you with the necessary strength and mental acuity.
If we have sufficient income to meet our needs apart from our business and jobs, we may choose to transition from our career early to invest more time in serving others as God directs.
Howard Dayton is the founder of Compass—finances God’s way and author of five books and six small group studies. He graduated from Cornell University and served two and a half years as a naval officer. But after a business partner challenged him to study the Bible to discover what God teaches about handling money, Howard’s life was profoundly changed. Since beginning in ministry, he has served as a full-time volunteer and has led more than 75 small groups. Howard married Beverly in 1971, and had two children and four grandchildren before she went Home to be with the Lord. In 2019, Howard remarried. He and his wife, Lynn, reside in Central Florida and Charleston, South Carolina.