The Bible does not specifically mention saving for retirement, per se, and it doesn’t mention 401(k) plans, IRAs, or the like. However, the Bible does speak of saving money, and it gives us clear principles to guide us in whether Christians should save for retirement.
The issues of retirement and investment in stocks have been addressed in separate articles. This article will focus primarily on the issue of whether Christians should save money for perceived future needs, such as when no longer generating income.
The Bible speaks positively about providing for oneself financially through work. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul gives a warning against idleness. He reminds the Thessalonians of how he and his companions worked to provide for themselves while serving the church, despite the fact that they had a right to receive monetary support from the church. In verse 10 Paul says the rule is that “the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” It seems, then, that we are responsible to provide financially for ourselves when possible. The question becomes whether we should save money during our working years in order to provide for ourselves during our retirement years, when we are unable to generate income.
The book of Proverbs has many admonitions that promote saving money and other resources. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Proverbs 6:6–8 uses an insect as an illustration of the need to save: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
Recognizing a future need and making provisions for it today is a biblically wise thing to do. Financial stewardship now, including saving for retirement, can enable us to better serve others later. We see Joseph exemplify the wisdom of saving in Genesis 41 when he stored provisions for the prophesied famine to come. We could even say that God’s command to the Israelites to gather enough manna on the sixth day to provide for both Friday and Saturday is a form of saving for a future need (see Exodus 16). Of course, “some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none” (verse 27). In their failure to plan ahead and save, they went hungry.
On the other side, we have passages like Matthew 6:25–34 in which Jesus encourages us not to be worried for tomorrow or to seek after the things of the world. Later, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, who had such an abundance of crops that he planned to build a larger barn to store up provisions for himself so that he could “say to [himself], ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’” (Luke 12:19). “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (verse 20). Jesus concludes with this application: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (verse 21). The issue in both passages seems to be one of heart. Jesus is not speaking against saving now for needs in the future. What He is talking about is where our hearts should be focused. We are to value the things that God values, trust in His provision instead of our own wealth, and also live wisely.
Christians are wise to examine their current spending patterns and their perceived future financial needs. When considering how to save for retirement, it is good to pray over the matter, search the Scriptures on the appropriate use of money, and meet with a financial adviser. Saving is wise, and trusting God is wise. As we save for retirement, we recognize that the goal is not a selfish enjoyment of a lavish life after years of work. The goal is not even self-sufficiency, since our dependence is always on God. The goal is to exercise godly wisdom in providing for our needs in future years and having enough to continue giving to others. Our trust is not in government programs or 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts. Our hearts are set on things above, where our true treasure is. Ultimately, our money belongs to God and is directed for His purposes.