Is Retirement Biblical? (Part 1)

by Jason on November 17, 2009


Should Christians pursue retirement as one of their major goals – or in doing so, are they pursuing something that is in complete contrast to what God has purposed for them?

I think this is a good question to ask, and one that I’ve often wrestled with.

As Americans, we generally want to work for 30 to 40 years, retire with a nice nest egg and spend the rest of our time doing things we really want to do, when we want to do them.

Retirement has become the quintessential American Dream.

But is this something that a Christian should pursue – and does the Bible have anything to say about it?

Retirement in the Bible

After a quick search for the word “retire” in a few different versions of the Bible – I noticed there weren’t many references to view. 

Of those that were listed, all but one had to do with either retiring to bed (going to sleep) or retiring from battle (retreating or pulling back). 

Numbers 8:23-26 was a passage that mentions retirement in terms of withdrawing from labor.  Here’s the passage:

23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. 25 And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.”

One of the responsibilities of the Levites was to transport and guard the tabernacle. 

So basically what’s going on here is that the Levites who were over age 50 were able to “retire” from carrying the tabernacle, but still served in guarding it.

As far as I know there is no other mention of retirement in the Bible – but does that mean we should throw out the notion of retirement just because it’s not in there?

Rest in the Bible

God’s word has a lot to say about the idea of rest. 

On the seventh day of creation, God rested from all His labor.  God instituted a day of rest in the 10 commandments, and we see Jesus resting and withdrawing from His work often to get refreshed.

But is this rest the same as retirement?  It doesn’t seem like it.  The Bible typically refers to rest as a temporary rest to get re-energized to go back to work. 

So once again, the Bible seems pretty silent on the issue of retirement.  I got to thinking about what a conversation about retirement would sound like between the Apostle Paul and Peter.  Maybe something like this:

Paul: “I’ve been making tents for the last 30 years – my back is just killin’ me – I gotta get out of this business.”

Peter: “Your back is killing you?  Try pulling a giant net of fish into a boat every day!  My dad had me helping him since I was 12 years old – 50 years of catching fish has caught up to me for sure.”

Paul: “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind taking my pension early and getting a nice little place on the Mediterranean.”

Peter: “I hear ya, Jerusalem for the summer and Greece for the winter would be the life!”

There’s no evidence a conversation like that ever took place.  In fact, I would be willing to guess that retirement to a guy like the Apostle Paul was something that never crossed his mind. 

He never wanted to be a burden to people so as to create any barriers to sharing the gospel. 

Should we take the Bible’s silence to mean:

a. Most people worked until they were physically unable to?

b. The Bible is not concerned about retirement?

Usually when the Bible is silent on a particular topic, it allows us to form our own opinion and conviction on the issue.

In part 2 we’ll further discuss the idea retirement in the Bible, look at the definition and re-defininition of retirement and what that means for us.

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