By Waldean Wall
How much should I save for retirement? Should I save for retirement or increase my giving? As someone who has worked with money for over 40 years, I have found these to be very trying and difficult questions – especially for the Christian. With the center of our thought resting on the glory of God and being faithful disciples, it can be confusing.
Save for Retirement or Increase Giving?
If we look at this from an earthly perspective, we can be overwhelmed with the dangers to a successful retirement. Longer life expectancies, medical costs, inflation, unpredictable investment returns, long-term care possibilities, and many other variables, can lead us to think that we can never save enough, right?
If we look at this from a Jesus-is-everything-to-me perspective, however, the answer might be very different. For the Christian, life is not just about doing what I want to do. It’s not about societal norms or the desire to not work or to have a luxurious retirement. It’s about living for Jesus 24×7. And Jesus is all about saving the lost and being our real treasure.
So, let’s look at 4 overarching issues as we think about this.
1. Financial Stewardship
The filter through which the Christian thinks about money is stewardship. We’re to steward God’s resources in a way that shows the value of Jesus. The Apostle Paul spoke of God’s overarching ownership like this:
For from [God] and through [God] and to [God] are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36
Everything we’ve been entrusted with is due to God’s design for us. And what we’ve been entrusted with is to be used to reflect God’s glory. This is the concept of stewardship. Everything we are and have – body, mind, money, time, talent, children, etc. – are all to be managed so as to show the value of King Jesus.
As the Apostle Paul was working with the believers at Corinth (they needed lots of help), he put it like this:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
For most people, retirement means generating at least some of their income from savings. And, the money we save for our retirement is God’s money. So, we must be careful to make sure our resources are being used rightly. We shouldn’t make retirement decisions without God’s perspective being the first priority.
2. Retirement Age
It’s easy to think that retirement is about a life of ease or simply not working. But that shouldn’t be our focus. Our purpose doesn’t change once we reach age 65 or 70, or choose to leave employment. From beginning to end, the Christian life is about becoming more like Jesus and living for him.
The Apostle Paul saw it like this:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9
We should follow the Psalmist when he said, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18)
The earlier we retire, the more we’ll need to accumulate for retirement income. This also means that we won’t be able to give away as much. For example; if someone started saving for retirement at age 40, planned on retiring at age 65, and wanted to create income until age 95, they would need to save 31% more every month than the person planning to retire at age 70. (This assumes a 3% inflation rate and a 5% return on savings.)
3. Standard of Living
The cost of one’s personal standard of living is another key factor in saving for retirement. The more you spend in retirement, the more you will need to accumulate. The less you spend, the less you’ll need to accumulate.
Living a simplified lifestyle can help us focus on our Kingdom work and reduce our need for a large accumulation.
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. – 2 Timothy 2:4
In other words, living for Jesus means our lives are focused on the Kingdom in everything. Raising children, buying cars or a house, thinking about college, our standard of living, and certainly retirement, should be considered carefully. We don’t want to move our focus away from the goal.
So, let’s build on the earlier example. The 40-year-old wanting to retire at age 65 will need to save almost 47% more every month to create income that’s 30% higher than the person retiring at age 70. (This assumes a 3% inflation rate and a 5% return on savings.)
4. Living by Faith in God’s Promises
Now, here’s something for you to pray and fast about. Here’s where the “rubber hits the road” for many people. The dominant school of thought is that you can never save too much for retirement. With all of the unknowns that we mentioned at the beginning (medical costs, inflation, investment returns, and long-term care possibilities, etc.) there’s never enough savings. The risk is too great. Responsible people should save as much as they can.
In response to this let me ask a question and make an observation:
Question – Are missionaries wrong for giving their lives to spreading the gospel and saving little for retirement? If you say, “No!”, the following question must be asked. Aren’t we all called to live lives of faith and give everything we are to God’s mission for us? Jesus spoke very difficult words to those who would follow Him.
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t save for retirement. But this does mean that we live for the Kingdom and not for our wealth.
Observation – For many, giving to Kingdom work is a low priority. Rather than giving as much as we can, it’s easy to ask how much must I give? This is simply not the right way to live by faith. While this article does not give us the space to do a Bible study on giving, please consider the following passages. (Luke 10:25-37; 12:13-21; 14:33; 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:2-4)
As we live lives of faith, God has promised to be all we need:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19
In many ways walking by faith means that we will continue to believe this and then we act accordingly.
Thinking about and planning for retirement is important. We should be able to pay our way when we can’t work. For the Christian, however, retiring to a cushy lifestyle should not be the focus. We should continue to live for Jesus and work to advance his Kingdom. Live small, give much, trust God.
Guest Post by Waldean Wall
Waldean Wall is a national speaker for the financial planning industry. He writes at moneyandthegospel.com and is the author of Money and the Gospel: 5 steps in creating a gospel-first vision and plan for your money.
Read more about stewardship: What Does the Bible Teach About Stewardship?
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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