As you start to get a bit gray around the temples, certain aspects of generosity may begin to look a little gray as well. For example, when the source of your income changes from salary to retirement savings, should that change how you determine how much to give?
Our intention with this article isn’t to be prescriptive or formulaic in addressing later-life giving questions, and it certainly isn’t to promote a legalistic or letter-of-the-law approach. Rather, our hope is that by bringing these questions to light, you’ll be prompted to think about them intentionally and prayerfully, and come to your own conclusions.
The journey of generosity
Generosity is a journey, with different starting points and turning points for different people. We hope that, somewhere along the way, each follower of Jesus makes a transition from simply seeking specific guidance on how much to give (“Should I give based on my gross income or my net?”) to developing the heart of a giver, where giving becomes an act of worship and a natural response to God’s lavish generosity.
Still, in one’s later years, new questions may arise.
Giving when your salary is gone
Let’s say you’ve faithfully given throughout your career — a proportionate amount given off the top — at least a tithe (10%), often more. Now you’re in retirement, taking withdrawals from the nest egg you’ve built by diligently saving over the years.
Do you give on each monthly withdrawal you make? Or, since your retirement savings were created with the money remaining after you already gave off the top, do you consider tithing on the withdrawals unnecessary? Or, do you try to calculate what percentage of each withdrawal from your nest egg is “principle” (retirement assets already tithed on) and what constitutes “increase,” and then give only on the increase?
What about Social Security? Although it may be possible to distinguish between the “after-tithe” amount you contributed to your personal retirement savings and the increase from “yet-to-be-tithed” investment gains, it would be much more difficult to do that math with Social Security. And besides, unless you have been self-employed during your entire working years, it wasn’t just you who “contributed” to Social Security — your employers did as well.
We posed these “after-retirement” questions to Howard Dayton, founder of the ministry, Compass—Finances God’s Way. Howard has devoted decades of his life to studying and teaching biblical principles of money management. Here is his take:
“These are all legitimate questions asked by good-hearted people. Personally, I don’t drill down to try to estimate how much is considered increase and how much is return of capital investment. In the farming economy of biblical times, they didn’t subtract the amount of the wheat they had planted in computing the tithe. They tithed on the whole increase. My opinion is that whatever I receive is a gracious gift from God regardless of what I invested. Giving is really all about nurturing a closer relationship with Christ by loving Him for His provision.”
Situations not addressed in Scripture
Let’s look at another scenario. Say your spouse passes away and you receive a lump-sum benefit from his or her life insurance.
Do you give a portion of that amount upfront? Or, would it be better stewardship to invest the money and then give off the income stream it generates?
You might ask the same questions about an inheritance. Again, from Howard:
“These issues aren’t directly dealt with in God’s Word. My opinion is based on Proverbs 3:9: ‘Honor the Lord from your wealth, from the first of your increase.’ That means to give to the Lord regardless of how we receive the money: salary, interest, dividends, gifts, inheritance, insurance, Social Security.
“We don’t do this out of duty, rather out of delight. The most important thing in giving is to do it with an attitude of expressing our love of Christ. ‘If I give all my possessions to feed the poor… but have not love, it profits me nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:3). For me it’s a pretty simple proposition.”
Making a prayerful decision
For some, these issues may center on the definition of “increase.” For others, that’s too formulaic.
How do you balance your desire to be generous with the biblical mandate to provide for your family (1 Timothy 5:8), especially at a time of life when income may be fixed and future medical costs uncertain?
Would it be better stewardship to be conservative in your giving, or would that reflect a heart that doesn’t fully trust in God’s provision? What if there isn’t unity between spouses?
In the case of a life insurance settlement, if the deceased was the main breadwinner, should the settlement money be used to replace his or her income by investing all of it?
Often, multiple factors must be considered and prayed over. In the spirit of Proverbs 27:17 (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”), we’d like you to use the comments section to let us know your thoughts. If you’re retired already, tell us how you worked through these questions. What conclusions did you come to?