Should a believer really contribute to IRA’s, 401K’s or other retirement accounts?

By Stew

My wife and I are between churches right now. We have been visiting different local assemblies throughout the fall we are close to making a final decision about the congregation that we will join. Last week we had one of the pastors over for dinner. In the course of our conversation, he made an interesting statement. He said:

I believe that a believer should not have 401K’s, IRA’s or any other type of retirement account.

At first I was a little taken back, but then I started to think about many of the promises that we find in Scripture – like the Apostle Paul’s admonition to a young pastor in I Timothy 6:8:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

How about the story of the rich man in Luke 12?

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'”Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” “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?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

If we take these verses literally, we have to say that “Pastor Jim” might be on to something. It kind of shatters our worldview as Americans, but read this next part carefully:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There are many more passages that emphasize this idea, more than we can discuss here. Basically, Pastor Jim was saying that we need to claim this promise of God. IF we are believers, true followers of Christ, instead of saving money for a comfortable retirement, we will trust Him and use that money to care for our neighbors and especially our church members in need.

I call this idea “radical faith”. At least it sounds radical to our way of thinking, but is he right? What if we have grown too dependent on the easy wealth that surrounds us? What if our faith muscles are so weak that we no longer trust clear promises from God’s Word?

Article by Stew

Photo by eclectic blogs

21 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Should a believer really contribute to IRA’s, 401K’s or other retirement accounts?”

  1. Jenny Says:

    Should we also not eat and trust that God will fill our bellies?

    Not work, and trust that He will provide income?

    Go naked into the cold winter weather and trust that He will keep us warm?

    Not copulate, and trust that He will give us the child we want through immaculate conception?

    God gives us the ability to take care of ourselves, through such actions as saving, eating, dressing warmly, and working?

  2. stephanie Says:

    This is an interesting (and bold) idea. I think the whole idea of IRAs, 401Ks, etc. stems from the fact that our society no longer takes *direct* care of the elderly. I.e. in Biblical times (from what little I know of it) a household would maintain at least 3 generations. The elderly were housed, fed and clothed by their children, taken care of until they died.

    Now, the elderly are more or less put out of sight, into retirement homes. Which, of course, cost money. Same issue for childcare — now it is a job for someone else, and therefore an additional expense.

  3. MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators Says:

    This reminds me of an old joke:

    There came a big flood, and the water around Bhola’s house was rising steadily..

    Bhola was standing on the porch, watching water rising all around him, when a man in a boat came along and called to Bhola, “Get in the boat and I’ll get you out of here. Bhola replied, “No thanks, God will save me.”

    Bhola went into the house, and the water was starting to pour in. So, he went up to the second floor.

    As he looked out, another man in a boat came along, and he called to Bhola, “Get in the boat and I’ll get you out of here.”

    Again, Bhola replied, “No thanks. God will save me.”

    The water kept rising. So, Bhola got out onto the roof.

    A helicopter flew over, and the pilot called down to Bhola, “I’ll drop you a rope,grab onto it, and I’ll get you out of here.”

    Again Bhola replied, “No thanks. God will save me.”

    The water rose and rose, and soon nearly covered the whole house. Bhola fell in, and drowned.

    When he arrived in Heaven, he saw God, and asked Him, “Why didn’t you save me from that terrible flood? Did I not show you my faith?”

    With a loving but irritated tone God replied, “What more would you have me do? I sent people in two boats and a helicopter?”

  4. trisha Says:

    How does he feel about where it talks about storing abundance during the good times to help weather the bad times?

    I get his line of thinking, but I also get where we need to prepare. I do believe we need to give more and do more to take care of others and not worry so much about keeping it all for ourselves, that I think is the key.

  5. Gholmes Says:

    Proverbs 27:12 “A Prudent person forsees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

    Not being able to support yourself, love ones and the needy after you are not able to work sounds dangerous to me.

  6. kathy Says:

    One will always have problems when they pick out certain verses in the Bible to support a particular idea. What comes to mind for me is Joseph being freed from prison, and acting on God’s instructions helped Egypt survive a long famine because they took the time to prepare and store enough to survive. Finding a church is challenging but important. It’s finding a “family”. I was in a contraversial church for nearly a decade and sadly realized I could not support some key teachings of this church. I knew it was important for me and my family to find a church quickly and we did. It was a church plant that has grown to about 1100 people over the last ten years. A great place to grow spiritually and serve God and my fellow man. I kind of cringed when I read your article because it says to me that this is a church that majors on the minor and misses out on the simple gospel message. Pastor shouldn’t even be going there. Let the Holy Spirit lead you!

  7. Gholmes Says:

    “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)

  8. Michelle Says:

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter: My cousin and his wife adhere to this philosophy – and also feel God’s call to inner-city ministry in a very very rough town. The practical application of his holding to this belief? My aunt and uncle pay for his household, including rent, food, insurance and healthcare. God is providing, through draining his getting-older parents of their life savings. I feel pretty passionately that this is wrong, though my aunt and uncle’s choice is theirs to make. My cousin and his wife are going to be in for a very very rude awakening when aunt/uncle are gone: my other cousin, his brother, told me his parents revised their will to leave their wealth to the grandkids (his kids, not the freeloading brother who is childless) based on Proverbs 13:22 : “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.”

  9. amymezzell Says:

    I agree with most of the people above in the fact that God gave us the sense to realize it would be wise to prepare for the future. It’s like the people who refuse medical treatment in lieu of God healing them, when in fact, I believe, God gave us technology and intelligence to know how to solve some medical problems. That doesn’t mean we have to save so much money that we’ll become rich in our old age, but I think we’d be foolish to totally ignore the possibility and hope everything works out. Of course God is able to provide, but the above joke makes a great point. I also agree with the statement that if we did take care of each other as we’re commanded to, saving money for retirement wouldn’t be as necessary, but we don’t, so we have to work with the current cultural system gives us, which sadly isn’t much in the arena of retirement security these days.

  10. Ken Says:

    I think we need to give to those in need AND save for retirement. The Bible encourages saving and other financial issues as well.

  11. Holly Says:

    I struggle with this for a different reason — I’m not entirely comfortable with the investments in which my 401k is invested, even though I have tried to select a morally responsible plan.

    I think that some consideration must be given to what is being done with the money that would otherwise go towards retirement — is it being used to fund good projects or is it going to travel and big screen TVs? If we have money “to spare” and squander it, then I don’t think we can expect God to shower more resources on it in our old age. On the other hand, if prudent planning allows us the leisure in our old age to continue to praise God and build the kingdom, then that doesn’t seem like a bad thing to do.

  12. prasti Says:

    an interesting and perhaps radical perspective. given the bible verses provided it may very well mean that we shouldn’t save up for retirement or 401K plan since our true treasures are in heaven. i suppose it is a matter of the heart. if you feel led by the Holy Spirit not to have a retirement plan and use the money instead to help others then that’s what you should do.

    but at the same time, saving up for retirement is being prudent and wise with God’s money (as mentioned in the comment with proverbs 21:20). once you retire, that retirement money you saved up can still be used for God’s glory…it’s money that will keep you from going into debt as a retiree and money that can be used to further God’s kingdom (via tithing, etc.).

    God uses different people for different purposes and all for His glory.

  13. Gina Says:

    I agree with “amymezzell”. God provides us with tools (skills, talents, gifts) and allows us to choose the way we use those tools.

    Encourage the pastor to review Matthew 25:14-30 – the parable of the Talents. Most of us will be familar with this passage … v21″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

    The pastor does peak my interest a little. Does he know ANYONE who purposely didn’t save for the future and gave all of their money to the ‘less fortunate’ at HIS church?

  14. Andrew @ Earn Give Save Says:

    Saving for retirement is just one aspect of wise stewardship, which I would argue also includes consistent tithing, and to the extent which is possible, further giving beyond that. Having money saved at retirement means that we can further transition towards an eternity in worship.

    Imagine being able to volunteer full time in your 60s and 70s! One won’t be able to do that if the means to provide for oneself hasn’t been thoughtfully and prayerfully planned for.

    That being said, there is likely more than one answer to this challenging question!

  15. Paul Says:

    Does the minister earn a salary? If so, why? Perhaps he should consider the ravens of the field, and rely on god to feed him instead of earning an income.

    This actually brings up another point most Christians rarely talk about – was Jesus rich? His family received gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which would have been very valuable. As a carpenter, Joseph would most likely have more income than the normal subsistence farmer of the day. And Judas carried the groups money – so they didn’t just trust in God to provide for them wherever they went. Jesus could have just performed a miracle to feed and clothe the disciples but apart from feeding the masses that is never mentioned. And don’t forget that Abraham, Lot, Joseph, and many other people in the bible who were favored of by God were very wealthy.

    The advice of others here makes sense: pray on it and LISTEN for an answer. God talks to everyone, but it is up to us to listen. What is right for one person may not be right for everyone else. If we were all life-saving brain surgeons, who would fix the cars?

  16. Family Finance Says:

    What came to mind when I read your article was the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). The widow gave all that she had while those richer than her gave a small portion of their wealth.

    When I think of places like Haiti or Africa or any other country/society ravaged by natural disasters and poverty, savings for the future becomes almost an after thought. The priority is for survival and staying alive one day at a time, which means giving all you have to the current situation.

    If we were in their situation, would we be any different?

    I think we as Americans being born into this country have been given much, we are comfortable, and we have security that a large percent of the world does not know about. What does it mean for Christians? Are we called to give it all away?

    In a sense, yes. Why should Christians in America be any different than Christians in Haiti? Paul says as Christians, we are one body, we rejoice with those that rejoice, and we mourn with those that mourn (1 cor).

    We are one body and being one body means we have to give up being “independent” to being “interdependent.” What does that mean concerning 401k? I think if you look at the early church, the Christians shared all they had. Poor and rich shared, lazy were exhorted to work (1 thess), rich asked to share and not look down on poor (james).

    Sure we save, but we also recognize that this money is not ours, our retirement money is not for me to spend on myself, it is God who gave it to us and God who requires it of us. All money we have is God’s money and we are to be stewards of it. It is not about the 10% we give away every week that makes us faithful, it is the LARGE AMOUNT we spend on ourselves and not towards Kingdom Work that we need to repent of. We have been given a great blessing being born in America… but that blessing requires faithfulness to be a blessing to others.

  17. Marcelino Dibbern Says:

    Great information thanks for getting this out there for people like me to read.

  18. David Ray Says:

    Many good comments here. As some have said (in effect), scripture interprets scripture. We cannot extract individual verses and use them standalone. I believe scripture as a whole teaches us two things (among others)regarding this subject. It is wise to use our God given abilities and circumstances to set aside and prepare for times of different abilities and circumstances. AND, we are to trust in God and not our abilities and circumstances.

    This last is a real problem. We are constantly tempted to put our trust elsewhere than God. And trusting anything besides God is idolatry. We are very prone to pile up possessions and savings and investments so that we can feel safe and secure without having to trust in God. We want to cling to that control and self-sufficiency. Savings and investments become an idol. Self becomes an idol.

    Lesson? For me, it means to make a reasonable effort to be prudent and wise, setting aside some of today’s plenty for a time of less fruitfulness. And, not obsessing over market movements, techniques to squeeze more income. If my sense of safety and security tracks the economy then maybe my trust is in my idols and not my (real) God.

    So, there is not a black and white answer. It is a reminder to constantly examine my heart, which is deceitful above all things, as to where my trust is and what my idols are.

  19. Total Faith Says:

    It all depends on what we place our faith in. Tomorrow’s never promised and many who have saved for their retirements never saw it or are usually too old or not well enough to enjoy it. We are to be wide stewards, letting our. Faith in Christ “feed” us. We are to send treasures ahead, not store them here on earth. Lots of greed here in the United States.

  20. Total Faith Says:

    It all depends on what we place our faith in. Tomorrow’s never promised and many who have saved for their retirements never saw it or are usually too old or not well enough to enjoy it. We are to be wise stewards, letting our faith in Christ “feed” us. We are to send treasures ahead, not store them here on earth. Lots of greed here in the United States.

    Lord help us all !

  21. Mary Says:

    A lot of food for thought and prayer. I would suggest that each man does what the Holy Spirit leads him to do instead of what “smart financial guru’s” say is the way to go. God has a different plan for us all, and we need to seek Him with our whole hearts!

    Remember retirement funds and Social Security are relatively a new concept.
    God is faithful, He never changes, He has always provided for His people.