Rethinking Retirement Some More

Sound Words graphicIn last month’s Sound Words column, I applied Luke 12:13–21 to the topic of retirement, urging readers not to retire from life and ministry. Devoting your final decades to golf, gardening, and grandchildren would be unwise and unscriptural. Moving to Florida may be a selfish thing that leaves a gaping hole in your local church. On the other hand, your remaining productive years could be eternally useful, whether working in your local church, helping a church plant, or going to the mission field—without having to raise support!

While wasting the freedom afforded by your “autumn years” is tragic, the pattern of neglecting eternal needs for temporary pleasures starts long before retirement parties. We must not neglect urgent ministry needs in the “spring and summer” of life in order to stockpile for the future.

In James 5:1–6, James rebukes and warns those who are wealthy. Why? The riches with which they had been blessed were being misused—or not used at all! They were saving for “the last days” (v. 3) even as those less fortunate were unable to meet life’s basic needs (v. 4). In an apparent allusion to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:19–20, James bemoans such short-sighted and selfish hoarding. Unused possessions were rotting in storage (v. 2a); garments which could have clothed the needy were hanging in closets, moth-eaten (v. 2b); gold and silver that might have funded gospel ministry was “corroding” (v. 3). Such abuse of God-given wealth disgusted James. He warned of coming and ironic judgment in which hoarded riches would hinder their long-term security rather than insuring it (vv. 1, 3, 4).

To be sure, much of the reason for James’ frustration is that some of the wealth had been gained dishonestly, (vv. 4, 6). Still, there is a sense in which their hoarding and luxurious living—to the neglect of urgent needs—would have been unconscionable even if the riches had been gained honestly (cf. 1 Tim 6:18–19). While investing for the future is commended in both Testaments, we must ask ourselves “how much is enough?” We must invest in such a way that current needs are not neglected.

  • Ought we to stockpile for future comfort when hard-working brothers cannot make ends meet?
  • Ought we to plan for lavish vacations when missionaries toil three or more years to raise support?
  • Ought we to invest so much of our extra income into a dicey(!) stock market when our local churches are unable to meet budget?

We need to rethink retirement—both what we intend to do with it and what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to get there.

October/November 2008

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