Ask Chuck: Is Early Retirement Biblical?
We just spent the weekend with college friends who revealed they are part of the FIRE Movement and plan to retire in 12 years. My husband and I were shocked – we’re still paying off college loans from med school. There are days retirement sounds wonderful but how realistic, and more importantly, how Biblical is that goal?
Thanks for your question. I am aware of the movement. I have some comments about it and advice for you as well.
The FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Movement is fueled by Americans who desire to leave the traditional workplace in their 30s and 40s by investing enough assets in the early decades of their careers in order to build a nest egg to live off the rest of their lives.
FIRE enthusiasts desire the independence that comes with financial freedom. It doesn’t mean you have to retire early but is an option if desired.
When your net worth is 25x your annual expenses, you’re considered financially independent. So, if your annual expenses are $40,000, you are financially independent when your total net worth is $1,000,000.
FIRE or Faith?
I don’t think working to achieve financial independence is wrong; but the problem may lie with the motivation. In some cases, the motivation I sense is that the dependency is placed on money (as opposed to Christ) and the drive for independence is to live however most pleases yourself (as opposed to Christ).
I am reminded of Proverbs 21:20: A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. Motives matter to God. He bought and paid for our redemption so that we would live a life of faith surrendered to His purposes, not our own. Certainly, being free of debt and financial obligations can move us towards that goal, but if the motive is actually to eliminate faith then it is not a movement that could be justified by Scripture.
Remember too that the Lord did not put you here on Earth to retire early and pursue a life of leisure. He designed us to work. Earned achievement and generosity are our two greatest sources for happiness. When we work as unto the Lord, we are serving God. When we give cheerfully, we are serving God. The FIRE movement likely is not driven by these Biblical principles.
When to Retire?
Most people live by a different FIRE Mindset: “Financial Insecurity/Retire Eventually”.
Thankfully, God provides principles for balance. Just as not all borrowing is wrong, not all retirement is wrong. It is simply a matter of degree. In some professions, such as athletics, age is a critical factor, and retirement is inevitable. Other professions cause burn-out because of the high levels of stress.
In an article titled The Pros and (Mostly) Cons of Early Retirement, Greg Daugherty states:
Deciding when to retire is a complex decision that isn’t just a question of dollars and cents. Your health, family obligations and individual temperament all figure into it, or at least they should. Perhaps most important is whether you’ve thought through what you plan to do with your retirement years, however many of them lie ahead. As the wise old retirement cliché put it, it’s important not just to retire from something but to something.
This is a list of common motivations for people who want to leave the workplace. I offer some alternative views to each.
- Desire for happiness – need to discover true purpose and identity in Christ
- Leave stressful jobs – true peace comes from God and working within one’s design
- Prefer experiences to possessions – be careful that neither become idols
- Shaping life with financial freedom – possible with Biblical financial principles and proper motivation
- Want to start a business – admirable but not free of problems
- Want more family time – prioritize the use of time now and set boundaries around work
- Want to travel – doable with a greater purpose than sightseeing
Repurpose Don’t Retire
See work as a mission field and the opportunity to bring God glory through excellence in what you do, for as long as you find joy and purpose in the endeavor.
Retirement for Christians should mean freeing time to devote to serving others more fully without the necessity of getting paid for it. Whether serving on boards or volunteering for schools and organizations, our time and wisdom can be used to benefit others.
The only time retirement is mentioned in the Bible is in Numbers 8:25 referring to the retirement of the Levites from the tent of meeting. They were not allowed to own land or accumulate riches, but to receive their living from the tithes and offerings of God’s people and retire at the age of 50.
We’re a society of extremes. Some borrow, spend and work excessively in their early years, then want to quit altogether. Others plan extremely well but hoard funds that could be used to change lives for eternity. And, for some, retirement is an impossible dream due to lack of planning, debt, or low income.
Every Christian must realistically answer some planning questions:
- Why should I retire?
Seek the Lord and others you respect. Repurpose.
For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. (Proverbs 9:11)
- What will I do?
Make plans to impact the lives of others and set goals to finish well.
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. (Proverbs 16:31)
- What if my retirement plans fail?
There is no guarantee that your plans will suffice. Depend on the Lord, not your accounts, diversify and live modestly.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 27:12)
- What if I can’t retire?
Stay marketable by learning new skills and staying involved in your career field. Do not isolate yourself. Seek to pay off debt by spending less than you earn and buying only what you need. Be thankful for your job and what God provides.
I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)
My friend Jeff Haanen has written a book entitled, An Uncommon Guide to Retirement that I highly recommend. It will assist you in working through the issues while maintaining a Christ-centered focus.
Originally published on the Christian Post, April 26, 2019