What is a Christian perspective on retirement?
The short answer is that the Bible doesn't mention retirement. Age and infirmity could limit work opportunities, but there is nothing in Scripture that indicates a person should work a certain amount of years, save money, and suddenly stop working, enjoying a life of leisure.
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The evolution of retirement is grounded on an inappropriate response to social change. Before the industrial revolution, job opportunities were more fluid. An aging farmer could let his sons do the harvesting while he performed less intensive chores. A businessman could hire out the more difficult work and act as mentor to the next generation. The obsession with productivity and economic growth brought on by the industrial revolution erased such possibilities. With the new spate of machine-based jobs, older employees became a liability as they made more mistakes and slowed down manufacturing. Corporations led the government to enforce retirement to get the aging workforce out of the way. Twenty years later, Dr. William Osler claimed that while workers from age 25 to 40 were energetic and creative and workers from age 40 to 60 were tolerable, anyone over age 60 was useless. The Great Depression added insult to injury as younger men needed jobs to support their young families. Eventually, Franklin D. Roosevelt developed social security; workers could pay into a retirement fund from which they could draw a living at age 60, leaving gainful employment to the next generation. To convince older people that retirement benefitted them as well as the nation, the government joined with labor interests to sell the idea that work was for the young and the old "deserved" to take it easy. Retirement, wherein a 60-something person is allowed to quit work and live a life of leisure, became an expectation.
All of this happened within the last 150 years. Obviously, this does not encompass the period during which the Bible was written. There was no retirement as such in the Bible.
Instead, the aging/working process in the Bible more closely resembled the pre-retirement agrarian culture of earlier America. People performed the jobs they could (largely agricultural) and moved on to something less strenuous when they were physically unable—or had enough sons and servants that they didn't have to do the grunt work. An elder was respected for his wisdom and guidance, not given a pension and told to get out of the way.
The Bible endorses this system. In Numbers 8:24-26, Levites older than 50 were officially retired from the strenuous work of caring for the temple and given the position of aiding the younger Levites. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul gives Timothy an overall idea of aging. Younger men and women should be like siblings; older men and women should be like parents. Timothy was to respect his elders and gain wisdom from them, inferring that the older the person, the more they would take on a mentorship role. In the same way, a woman older than 60 could receive a pension of sorts from the church, but only if she had no family to support her and she continued serving the Lord and other believers. Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) emulate this spirit as they continued to serve God in their older years.
There is nothing in the Bible that prohibits a Christian from quitting work and living off of a pension—as long as they continue to serve where they are, whether that be with extended family or the church. Our work for God is never finished. Our example should be Anna who was anywhere from 84 to 105 years old and spent every day praying at the temple (Luke 2:36-37). We are never too old to serve God and each other.
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