In recent years, it has become common for many people to take early retirement from the job. This practice is sup-posed to give advantages both to the employer by lowering the payroll expense and to the retiree by giving more time to enjoy the golden years of life. Whether the practice has brought about good or bad results in the business world is for the experts to discuss. However, I would like to consider the effect of a similar practice of early retirement which I have seen becoming all too prevalent in local churches. In too many places, we are losing the knowledge, ability, and experience of godly men and women due to retirement from the work in favor of “voluntary unemployment.” Such early retirements have been detrimental to the work of our Lord and the souls of men.
Let us first be reminded of Bible teaching about the work necessary for each of us as Christians. Paul stated the responsibility with which each Christian is charged when he said:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
That requirement should not being surprising to the servant of God for he has always demanded the full attention of heart, soul, strength, mind and body (Deut. 4:29; 6:5; 10:12-13; 1 Chron. 22:19; 28:9; 29:17-19; Matt. 22:35-38). God is not pleased with a division of attention which seeks to give partial service to him and partial service to another (Luke 16:13). Blessings from God are contingent upon giving unreserved priority to him and his service (Matt. 6:33). The Christians in Rome were reminded about their obligation of energetic service to the Lord which was to be “in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).
The apostle Paul was an excellent example of that kind of diligent work in serving Christ. From the time the Lord appeared to him along the Damascus road until the apostle’s death, Paul was the picture of diligence. Regardless of the obstacle, he remained persistent in his pursuit of service to the Savior (2 Cor. 11:23-33). His determination in ser-vice to carry the gospel of Christ throughout the world can be seen in his comparison of that service to a marathon race in which he would be satisfied with nothing short of first place:
Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Later in the same book, he commends that kind of compulsive service in others. Notice his description of the household of Stephanas:
I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth (1 Cor. 16:15-16, KJV).
Could it be accurately said of our house that we are addicted to the ministry of the saints? Such devotion is set forth as the example for us to follow. Do we follow it? If we are taking early retirement in the Lord’s service, it is certain that we are not addicted to the service of Christ and the saints. Just think what a difference between such devotion and the early retirement syndrome in two areas of the Lord’s work.
Assembling of Saints
Some manifest a spirit of retiring from regular worship of God and exhortation of the saints contrary to the command of God (Heb. 10:24-25). Oh yes, they may come back at varying intervals to visit their former associates in work, but they do not keep “regular hours” anymore. Their identification with the work to be done is no longer present. When they return, it is more social in nature than an attempt to help shoulder the work that must be done. They may still see themselves as workers, but they are merely bystanders who no longer soil their hands with the tasks of service.
Are you an early retiree from the assembling of the saints? Is your presence at the assembly for worship more a visit than a routine? If so, why not change that today? If every member of this congregation attended each service with the same frequency that a good employee comes to work, think of the results. God would be glorified as he deserves to be by each Christian! Every saint would be encouraged by every other saint as we exhort one another to love and good works! Each Christian would be doing this work commanded by God! Early retirement robs God, the church, and the unfaithful.
Teaching of Others
Some manifest a desire to withdraw from the teaching which is the responsibility of mature Christians (Heb. 5:12). Instead of continuing their efforts until death, as Paul and other faithful saints did, these seek early retirement from the task of teaching. They claim to have “put in their time” or “done that when they were younger,” but see it as another’s responsibility now. They look back at the time when they used to get lessons prepared and do the hard work, but now are glad that they can sit back and listen to another who has done the preparation for them. They donot stop to consider that God gave no time short of the grave when we could rightly retire from the responsibility of teaching others. Early retirement would have been easier on Paul, Peter, John or Jesus, but they did not take it. They endured faithfully and zealously to the end.
Have you taken early retirement from teaching others about the gospel? Have you sought to hand that task to someone else? Why not get back to the work God has for you in teaching, now? If we had every mature Christian teaching as God commands, just think of the results. It would be pleasing to God! It would help those who need to learn the truth! Do you remember in school how several teachers could try to convey the same point, but then that one teacher who was making the same point would put it in such a way that you could understand it? That happens in the teaching of the gospel as well. There is someone that you can reach with the truth more effectively than anyone else. If you fail to do that teaching, God will hold you accountable.
If we had every mature Christian teaching as God commands, it would help every teacher as well! Those who are presently carrying all of the load would be aided tremendously by the help. I have noticed over the past few years in many congregations that the full weight of the teaching in the class programs has fallen on a shrinking number of teachers. They need help! However, when others step in to help, the helpers will end up being helped. When we teach others, we learn more in preparation than we can possibly impart in our teaching. Therefore, we grow faster in our service to God through teaching than we would have by setting back and letting others do the work for which we are responsible to God. These principles not only apply to our class program, but also to our teaching it privately.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 22, p. 18-19
November 21, 1996