Does God want us to retire? I don’t know what you think, but God says, NO!
In the Bible the subject of work is mentioned 419 times with other related work words another 350 times. Really you might say. Jesus talked
most about money more
than any topic, some 140 times. But work appears some 700+ times in Scripture.
Retirement as a word does not appear. Perhaps the closest word is rest.
Two years ago I tried to retire as I resigned from my job as Pastor of Congregational Care at a large Presbyterian church. It was summer, so I threw myself into biking and swimming in Lake Michigan that was rarely warm that year. After about four weeks my wife announced that I ”failed retirement.” This was amusing and frightening all at once. What now? What did this mean, what was I supposed to do? More importantly I asked what does God say about this?
Christian Retirement In The Bible
"The LORD said to Moses, This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites." Numbers 8:23-26 (New International Version)
Retirement is specifically mentioned only once in the Bible. It applied only to a certain group of people...the Levites. Levites were charged with serving God by doing much of the work in and around the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, and later, the Temple. They were allowed to begin their work at age 25 and work until the mandatory retirement age. The Bible passage outlining their service and eventual retirement is found in Numbers 8:23-26. God required the Levites to retire at age 50. Why did God require that they retire at such an early age? While no one but God himself knows for sure, we may speculate that among the reasons for their retirement were these:
1. Moving the Tabernacle and its furnishings required strength and stamina. God may have wanted the younger men to carry most of the load of physically moving the articles of worship from place to place.
2. The Levites were not required to stop working altogether. They were required to retire from their "regular service," and to take on the role of assisting the younger men perform their work.
3. The men age 50 and above were needed to mentor the younger men in their trade by providing the wisdom and leadership that came from 25 years of experience in serving the Lord.
4. New leadership was identified and utilized as the younger men moved up through the ranks of service.
When Retirement is Not an Option
When Joshua was between 85-100 years old and well advanced in years, the Lord said to him, "You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over" Joshua 13:1. God still had work for him to accomplish. Unfortunately, the American culture often glorifies youthful strength at the expense of those who are older. Older people have much to offer, including wisdom, experience, knowledge, commitment, leadership, and many other things of value. Do you remember the advice Paul once offered to his young protégé Timothy? "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" 1 Timothy 4:12.
Don't give Anyone a Reason to Look Down on You Because You are Old
Many older people need to consider how Paul may have offered this same advice to Timothy had he been around to have written it during Timothy's retirement years. "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are OLD, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."
The Psalmist in Ps 62 says, “My souls finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken…Find rest O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” (Ps 62:1-2, 5-6). This psalm began to be a mantra for meditation. God told us in Genesis 2:2 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” So God rested from his work. Yes, not because he needed it, but because we needed it. He created the Sabbath for us not himself. Psalm 23 reminds us of this same theme. David said that the Lord our Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters. He refreshes our souls. He leads us along paths of righteousness. Why? I believe because we are not capable of it. We need rest, and refreshment and restoration. So do (should?) we retire?
Jesus said to the disciples in John 9:4, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus was reminding them that they would have him only for a short while longer, so to do the work of the Lord. Solomon, supposedly the wisest man on earth beside Jesus, said in his wisdom book Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God.” God has gifted us with work and wealth. On this gift, the Holy Spirit said of Barnabas and Paul, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Here is a key to God’s heart on the matter. God is calling each of us. He has gifted each of us with a gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a gift we are to utilize for the encouragement and edification of the church. I don’t know what your gift is, but for me it is encouragement and teaching and healing. Our calling is from God and he wants us to use it. When? I believe now and as long as we live. Ah ha, here lies the rub or key. God never wants us to stop using the gifts he has given us.
God never stops working. In Romans 8:28 we hear that God is working all things together for our good if we love him and are called according to his purpose. Yes, he called us and will conform us to his likeness and is justifying us. Later in Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul expands this thought and plan. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is a gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us to do.” We are working for God not ourselves. It is because of his grace and goodness that we do works for him and for his glory, not ours. We are not saved by works but for works in what James, the brother of Jesus is getting at in Chapter 2 when he tells us that faith without works is dead. They work together to show our love of God and to fulfill his purposes for us. Solomon again in Proverbs 31 gives praise to the wife of noble character, “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gates.”(V.31). I hesitate to add Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Additionally he goes on in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 to bring this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ This is pretty serious teaching. This is why Paul himself worked as a tentmaker, leading by example. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter.
What about Christian Retirement?
A Christian may retire from their job or career any time they choose to do so...however, a Christian never retires from Serving God!
The Bible NEVER encourages Christians to retire from serving God. Those who are past retirement age should never assume that age disqualifies or excuses them from serving God. Joshua 24:29 tells us that Joshua ultimately died when he was age 110. That same chapter records the most famous words he ever spoke. "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" Joshua 24:15. We must assume that since this was right before his death, he was 110 when he spoke these words and that he was still planning to serve the Lord until he drew his very last breath.
Your Best Years of Christian Service may lie just ahead!
Allow God to use your God-given wisdom, knowledge, abilities, leadership, commitment, time and availability to serve him. Serve in your local church. Become a true prayer warrior. Mentor younger men and women. Apply your biblical knowledge by teaching in your local congregation. Volunteer for local, state, regional, domestic, or foreign missions.
Never yield to the temptation to retire from serving God. You are needed and wanted in his service. Your best years of Christian Service may lie just ahead!
Well, I am convicted in a good way to know that God wants us to work and to rest. Perhaps we may not be working for money always, or we change employers or calling at some points of our life. Jesus’s last words before ascending to heaven were to go and make disciples of all nations. This work is not done. And it appears that Jesus will not return to rule and reign until we have finished this work. So, I am back at work and I am serving God’s people in hospitals as a Chaplain. This is my calling. I have worked in hospitals for 40 years. Fifteen years ago God called me from the front office to the bedside, but I am still doing his will for me in Christ Jesus.
The Takeaway - God’s word is Pretty Clear
1. Are you interested in retiring or working longer?
2. Are you actively looking for employment?
4. Are you interested in relaxing and getting away from a job or career?
5. Are you interested in travel opportunities?
6. Are you looking for ways to share your knowledge and experiences with new friends or acquaintances?
7. Are you interested in finding a Christian retirement community, or do you or someone in your family need the services of an assisted living facility?
8. Are you in need of other retirement opportunities or services
Explore ALL your Options
• Conduct a web search of ministry opportunities
- Check with your local church, congregation, state, or national denominational administrative body
• Seek special places where you can volunteer or serve
• Explore avenues of teaching new friends
• Conduct a web search of Christian retirement communities and Christian retirement options
• Explore assisted living opportunities
• Explore Christian retirement resources