Let me begin by putting my cards on the table (pun intended): I BELIEVE THAT GAMBLING IS A BIBLICALLY INDEFENSIBLE ACTIVITY.
• I agree with GEORGE WASHINGTON: “Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.”
• I agree with MARTIN LUTHER: “Money won by gambling is not won without self-seeking and love of self, and not without sin.”
• I agree with AUGUSTINE: “The devil invented gambling.”
• I agree with MARK TWAIN: “The best throw at dice is to throw them away.”
• And I agree with STANLEY HAUERWAS: “Tell the people who are involved in gambling that as Christians they can’t do it. Otherwise, you’re just caught up in the pluralistic politics that will ultimately destroy the church.”
I know these quotes may seem harsh, strict, and narrow. But I do not think I overstate my case when I say that those who trust God don’t gamble and those who gamble don’t trust God. As stark as it seems, the final analysis is that that we must choose between God and gambling.
Let me preface my argument with two qualifications.
GOD IS NOT AGAINST MONEY, WEALTH, OR PROSPERITY. Spirituality and poverty are not synonyms. One does not assume the other. A rich person can be modest, generous, and Christlike. And a poor person can be selfish, covetous, and materialistic. The difference is the disposition of your heart, not your financial status. 1 Timothy 6:10 says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Don’t misread that statement. Money itself is not the root of all kinds of evil. Money is morally neutral. But your attitude toward money is either godly or worldly. So do not confuse any statement in this message to mean that God wants all his people to be broke, sick, and miserable. The truth is that every dollar that comes into your possession through legitimate means is gained because of God, not in spite of him. Proverb 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” And 1 Timothy 6:17 says “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
GOD IS NOT AGAINST TAKING RISKS. All gambling involves risks. But not all risks involve gambling. And it is gambling that God is against, not risk-taking. Life is full of risks. Any entrepreneurial endeavor involves certain risks. Every job, no matter what it is, involves some risks. Your decision to follow Christ involved risk. You decision to get out of bed this morning involved risks. Risk is an inevitable reality of life in a fallen world. In fact, the Parable of the Talents, recorded in Matthew 25:14-30, condemns those who are blessed by the Lord but who are unwilling to take any risks for him. God is not against risk taking. But God is against games that involve gambling.
There is no lost eleventh commandment that says, “THOU SHALT NOT GAMBLE.” I cannot quote book, chapter, and verse that explicitly prohibit gambling. In fact, the words “gamble” or “gambling” are not even used in any of the major translations of the Bible. The only time the concept of gambling as sport is ever mentioned in the Bible is when the soldiers cast lots for the clothes of Jesus as the foot of the cross. So if gambling is not discussed in scripture, how does one come to the conclusion that God is against gambling? There are four biblical concepts that lead to the conviction that gambling is not a good bet.
I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
A.W. PINK said it well that the sovereignty of God simply means that God is God. And because God is God – the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of all things, we must abstain from gambling to trust, honor, and submit to the sovereign authority of God. Let me explain. Games that involve gambling are most often based on luck, fate, or chance. But these ideas are all incompatible with the God of the Bible. Atheism, agnosticism, and deism have a view of God that permits fate, luck, and chance. Atheism simply says there is no such being as God. Agnosticism says we do not or cannot know whether God actually exists. Deism says there is a God who created the heavens and the earth. But deism believes that God wound up the world like a clock and then left it to run on its own devices.
If you hold to one of these views, you can easily embrace the ideas of fate, luck, and chance. But Christians are theists. More specifically, we believe that the God who has eternally coexisted as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is alive, awake, alert, aware, almighty, and at-work, accomplishing his own agenda. And this idea of a living, personal, sovereign God is not merely the position of brainwashed fanatics. And it is not merely the conclusion of pedantic theologians who teach outdated doctrines in stuffy academic settings. One of the first songs we teach children to sing says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Faith in luck and faith in God are mutually exclusive. To believe in the God Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and the church is to disbelieve in fate, luck, and chance.
Someone may object: “What about the times when people cast lots in scripture? Did God approve of that?” Yes. People did cast lots in the Bible. It was a crude equivalent to rolling dice. It had the same purpose as pulling straws. And, yes, God did approve of it at times. But it was not gambling. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Get that. Nothing just happens. God is in control of everything. Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
You may be thinking, “H. B., aren’t you pushing this thing a little too far? Sure, I gamble every now and then. But I am not intentionally practicing idolatry or pagan superstition. It’s just fun. I’m a recreational gambler. I do it for entertainment.” Sure. Okay. All right. God is not anti-fun, anti-recreation, anti-entertainment, anti-happiness, or anti-pleasure. But 2 Timothy 3:4 says that God is definitely against those who are lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God. God is against any form of fun, entertainment, or pleasure that is exalted over our love for him. And this applies beyond gambling. We as Christians need to do a much better job at disciplining the media, technology, and activities we engage in. We must not engage in anything that will make our lives empty, our faith weak, or our witness ineffective. In their book Preaching to Strangers, WILLIAM WILLIMON and STANLEY HAUERWAS write: “To be a witness does not consists in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
II. THE SPIRITUAL AFFECTS OF YOUR CONDUCT
Gambling is a difficult and complex issue to discuss, because of the different levels, nuances, and perceptions related to it. Consequently, Americans have never been on one accord about whether or not gambling is wrong. Even religious groups waver between support or toleration of it and active opposition to it. But while the intrinsic evil of gambling may be debated, the extrinsic effects of gambling cannot.
• Gambling feeds on human weakness, contributes to the debasement of character, and destroys self-respect.
• Gambling attracts a number social pathologies, including alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, pornography, and violent crime.
• Gambling increases divorce, poverty, and suicides.
• Gambling, both legal and illegal, leads to bribery, swindling, and tax evasion.
• Gambling produces nothing. The gambler loses. The community loses. Only the game owner or operator really wins. Most of the gamblers do not.
• Gambling doesn’t produce any new wealth. Legalize gambling, take 100 people and let the action begin. When you return, there will be no new products created, no source of new wealth. There will only be a redistribution of money on an unfair basis.
HERE’S THE POINT. Gambling produces only negative results. It is parasitic in nature. It carries detrimental personal and social consequences with it. Let me bottom-line this for you: BAD GAMBLING IS REDUNDANT. GOOD GAMBLING IS AN OXYMORON. Therefore, you must factor the spiritual effects of your conduct into your convictions about gambling.
A. CONSIDER HOW YOUR CONDUCT AFFECTS YOUR WALK WITH CHRIST.
Gambling is habit forming, addictive, and destructive. It is what PASCAL called “a fatal fascination.” In fact, gambling is so potentially habit inducing that we use terms like “obsessive,” “compulsive,” and “pathological” in reference to it. This is another factor so-called recreational gamblers have to deal with. Some Christians argue that gambling is only threatening in its abuse. Therefore, one may participate in some form of social or casual gambling without detrimental effects. They argue that gambling is a matter of Christian liberty and that to speak authoritatively against it is unjustifiable legalism. Perhaps that’s true. A few dollars here or there may not destroy your solvency or your character. But given gambling’s history; the burden of proof is on you. All the evidence points to the fact that gambling is not mere entertainment. Its seductive power can take a person from harmless fun to destructive addiction in no time. So you must always consider how your conduct affects our walk with Christ.
Mark it down. Spiritual maturity doesn’t happen automatically. Christlikeness is the by-product of your commitment to godly habits that facilitate spiritual growth. Therefore, if you are going to grow in your spiritual walk, you must commit yourself to activities that will draw you closer to Christ, not pull you away from him. Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved to anything.’” Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” And Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the found and perfecter of our faith…”
B. CONSIDER HOW YOUR CONDUCT AFFECTS YOUR WITNESS FOR CHRIST.
I believe that gambling violates the eighth Commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:15: “You shall not steal.” Yep. I said it. Gambling is a form of stealing.
The Bible repeatedly teaches that it is wrong to exploit people. And the lottery is one of the most exploitative gambling mechanisms in existence today. In order for you to win the lottery, someone else has to lose. Think about that. When two people sit down to work out an honest business deal, they are looking for a “win-win” situation. For instance, if the need is there on one side, and the supply is there on the other side, both parties win. But when the only way I can win is by you losing, I have moved into the realm of exploitation. Just imagine a businessperson saying to a potential partner, “I’ve got a great deal for you. I’ll take all the profits. And you take all the losses.” That is the nature of the lottery. You have to take from one to give to another. You have to make many losers in order to have a handful of winners. And everyday, America makes thousands of losers so a few people can win. That’s exploitation. It’s stealing. And it’s even worse when you consider the lottery is primarily aimed at and financed by poor people. It is a fact that most lottery outlets are located among poor people. That’s not incidental. It’s theft by exploitation.
Now, I can hear someone saying, “Wait a minute here. People play the lottery voluntarily. Besides, it’s legal.” I agree. But that doesn’t make it right. Legality and morality are two different things. So you have to go beyond what is merely legal and judge things by a biblical morality. When you do, you will conclude that gambling is robbery by mutual consent. Someone always loses, and it’s generally those who are least able to afford it. That’s wrong. The lottery tears people down. The Lord is about lifting people up. And if we are on the Lord’s side, we must shun games like the lottery in obedience to the Lord’s command for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
III. THE SACREDNESS OF THE BIBLICAL WORK ETHIC
I said in the introduction that God is not against the legitimate acquisition of wealth. But what are the legitimate means of acquiring wealth? According to the Bible, there are three legitimate ways to acquire wealth: (1) as a gift, (2) as a fair exchange, or (3) as payment for labor. Gambling does not fit any of these criteria. Gambling revenue is not a gift from God. It is not a fair exchange. And it is not payment for labor, not matter how hard you work to win it.
That brings up another point about the lottery and our commitment to those who are less fortunate. The lottery appeals to the weakness of people and not to their strengths. It feed their thoughts of inability. It makes them willing to let the government come in and hand them their future basically for free. So they wait and pray for a big lottery payday, while they continue in their circumstances. That’s wrong. The government is only responsible to provide a just environment so that you can have equal access and not be discriminated against based on illegitimate criteria – like race, religion, or gender. Government is responsible for removing tyranny from the marketplace. But it is immoral to sanction and promote games that produce undeserving millionaires. As Christ followers, we must condemn gambling because it undermines the biblical work ethic. God’s way out of poverty is through productivity not chance. Christians do not hope to get winning numbers in order to gain prosperity. We work!
Proverbs 6:9-11 says, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” And 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Those who refuse to be productive should not be given the lottery as an easy way out of the responsibility of work. They should be made to starve.
According to scripture, money is designed to do three basic things: (1) Money is meant to take care of your personal and family needs; (2) to further the work of God; and (3) to provide help for those in need. Here is another way gambling undermines a biblical work ethic. It undermines one’s view of the purpose of work. Simply put, gambling perpetuates selfishness. It blows me away that state governments have won support for state-sponsored lotteries with flimsy arguments about better education, more police, or whatever noble thing they say will do with the lottery income. Come on. Be honest. You don’t play the lottery thinking about how it will help schools. You’re trying to help yourself. D. JAMES KENNEDY is right: “Gambling is institutionalized covetousness.” Gambling is also a violation of the tenth Commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:17. Gambling reveals and inspires covetousness, greed, and materialism. Gambling says, “I want it all. And I want it now.” But you had better heed the words of Proverbs 28:20, that says, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
IV. THE STEWARDSHIP OF YOUR RESOURCES
Everything you posses is a gift from God. But God gives it with an expectation of accountability. You may use your possessions as either tools or toys. Either way, we are responsible to God for their use. By right of creation and redemption, humanity, along with the entire universe, belongs to God in Christ. Our obligation is to use all of our resources responsibly. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” Irresponsible use of God’s provisions, at any level, is a sin. Therefore, we must factor the stewardship of our resources into our convictions about gambling. And the doctrine of Christian stewardship can be summarized in four short statements.
A. WHAT I POSSESS, GOD OWNS.
This principle is the heart of Christian stewardship: God owns it all! Psalm 24:1 is clear: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” Everything we possess belongs to God. So ask yourself a simple question: Do you believe that God has provided you with a certain amount of money for the purpose of wagering it so he can get the glory and you win? As you consider that question, remember that God is not just a passive observer in gambling. Since everything you have belongs to God, he is the one who is bankrolling your gambling. Your money is really his money. And since God owns everything, you have to also believe that it is okay with him for you to gamble with his money. For the record, God is not.
B. WHAT I GIVE, GOD MULTIPLIES.
Luke 6:38 says: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the same measure you use it will be measured back to you.” If you want to prosper, don’t gamble. Give. No, giving is not some spiritual get-rich-quick scheme. But the wonderful and inevitable truth is that God blesses generous people. And let me say a word to those of you who think, “If I win the lottery, the first thing I’m going to do is give God his share.” That attitude is not spiritual or noble. Read 2 Samuel 24:18-24. The godly thing is when you refuse to offer to God that which costs you nothing. If you really want to honor God, give from what you have; don’t make hypothetical promises about stuff you don’t have.
C. WHAT I INVEST, GOD REWARDS.
Here again we find the significance of Jesus’ Parable about the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). God honors those who make wise, strategic, and legitimate investments. Gambling is a violation of this principle of stewardship on two grounds. First of all, Luke 14:28-30 teaches us the importance of counting the costs. Anyone who counts the costs of gambling would determine that it is not a wise investment. Statistically, you are twice as likely to get hit by a bolt of lightning twice than to win the lottery. I was watching CNN’s coverage of a big lottery one day and someone said, “Gambling is a regressive tax levied against those who can’t do math.” Gambling is also a violation of this principle because it does not factor in Matthew 6:19-21, where Jesus commands, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieve do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
D. WHAT I NEED, GOD SUPPLIES.
Gambling is evil because it suggests that God cannot be trusted to meet your needs. So you need to help him by going for a lucky strike. And that’s why having things like raffles and bingo in the church can be sinful. No, there is nothing wrong with those games, in and of themselves. And there is nothing wrong with giving prizes to winners. But something is wrong when a church says by its actions that it doesn’t have confidence that it can move its people to give regularly, sacrificially, and cheerfully. And there is something wrong when we don’t trust God to provide for the ministry needs through his people, and we resort to gambling to meet legitimate needs. I repeat: Those who trust God don’t gamble. And those who gamble don’t trust God. Do you have needs? There’s a way to get your needs met that is better than playing the lottery or going to a casino or betting on sports games. Trust God. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
One day a man was lost in a desert without water, but he saw an old shack. He painfully made his way to the shack. Inside was a little jar of crystal clear water set on the floor next to a pump. But as he reached down to pick up the jar of water, he noticed a sign. The sign said, “Use this water to prime the pump out back. When you are satisfied, refill it and leave it for the next person who will pass this way.” He found himself on the horns of a dilemma. What if he followed the directions and there was no water in the well? He had to make a decision to either serve himself now, or invest and take the chance that deep down there was so much more. Likewise, you have a choice. You can take the little that God has given you and consume it for yourself. Or you can use it to prime something that’s got so much more. It all boils down to whether you believe there’s something underneath the ground.
IF THE WORLD FROM YOU WITHHOLD OF ITS SILVER AND ITS GOLD
AND YOU HAVE TO GET ALONG WITH MEAGER FARE
JUST REMEMBER IN HIS WORD HOW HE FEEDS THE LITTLE BIRD
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE
IF YOUR BODY SUFFERS PAIN AND YOUR HEALTH YOU CAN’T REGAIN
AND YOUR SOUL IS ALMOST SINKING IN DESPAIR
JESUS KNOWS THE PAIN YOU FEEL, HE CAN SAVE AND HE CAN HEAL
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE
WHEN YOUR ENEMIES ASSAIL AND YOUR HEART BEGINS TO FAIL
DON’T FORGET THAT GOD IN HEAVEN ANSWERS PRAYER
HE WILL MAKE A WAY FOR YOU AND WILL LEAD YOU SAFELY THROUGH
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE
WHEN YOUR YOUTHFUL DAYS ARE GONE AND OLD AGE IS STEALING ON
AND YOUR BODY IS BENDING BENEATH THE WEIGHT OF CARE
HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU THEN; HE’LL GO WITH YOU TO THE END
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE