Is Retirement Biblical?
Numbers 8:23-26 indicates differently. Not only is retirement a biblical concept, it's actually God's idea! The Levites served as priests for up to twenty-five years. They could start at age twenty-five, but "at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer" (NIV, vs 25).
It's important to note that life expectancy back in this era was much shorter than it is today. I don't think God intended for the age of fifty to be a universal retirement age defined by him. At least I hope not!
Nor does this passage indicate that once retired, the Levites were to become idle and waste away. They could still be active in support roles: "They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work" (vs 26). In other words, while those of retirement age were to move off the piano bench so that younger players could sit there and make beautiful music, the retirees could still turn the pages and serve those making the music in other helpful ways.
So what does this mean for us today? It means that retirement is a bibilical concept. It's God's idea. Rather than resist it, we can embrace it as a part of his design. We can understand that once retired, we can remain active in support roles. We are not marginalized or rejected because God's love and value of us hasn't changed. Our eternal reward has not diminished. But during our declining years, why hold on to a role someone in the prime of life may be able to do with greater strength and more intense focus? Why not come alongside them with a servant's heart to help assure their doing it well?
I don't believe these somewhat obscure verses in the book of Numbers are there by mistake. They're there to help us!
Father, help me to not hold on too long. Give me the grace to embrace your design in retiring at the time you desire, and help me to know when that time has arrived. Keep me from doing damage by staying too long. When I do retire, show me how I can help those still on the piano bench make beautiful music! In the name of Christ, Amen.
NOTE: The C&MA has birthed a ministry to its missionary retirees called Caleb & Co. Mrs. Sarah Liu has done an outstanding job of leading it. This month there will be a retreat during which about seventy missionary retirees will be honored, encouraged, and kept abreast of developments in Alliance missions. A part of this event will be showing some ways they can help those still on the piano bench make beautiful music.
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