My question concerns the lottery. If a man has given first to the Lord, met all his monthly financial obligations, taken care of his family, etc., is it okay to play the lottery? Is this being greedy for gain, or can a believer have the proper mind-set and see to it that the gambling does not get out of control such as in compulsive gambling? What does the Bible say about gambling?
We must always come to the Scripture willing to follow its principles, not come to it with the hope that we can somehow find something to justify what we want to do. We must be on guard for Satan’s tricks of deception also.
You have a pertinent question, as all states now allow some form of legalized gambling. But the danger believers face is to think that this legalization automatically makes the involvement all right in God’s eyes. This is simply not so. Many things God condemns the state does not consider against the law. However, believers follow a higher set of guidelines—the Word of God. Some of our human laws are based upon the Old Testament law, to be sure; but we have to emphasize the word “some,” with seemingly less and less of them on the books as we go through the end times. Human law is a poor thing to base one’s life and conduct upon. Believers must abide by the law, unless it goes absolutely contrary to the Word of God; on the other hand, human law simply does not include too many things in accord with God’s standard of righteousness. Human laws are relative; God’s standards are perfect and never change. Therefore, the fact that your state legalizes gambling does not mean that Christians can jump in and participate.
Another of Satan’s arguments is mentioned in your question, and it involves the rationalization I have just mentioned. It is the idea that we can engage in a particular activity if we have done right in other areas; i.e., given our tithe to the Lord; taken care of the family. King Saul rationalized this way. God had told him to destroy Amalek and everything that those wicked people had. Instead Saul spared their king, Agag, and the best of their sheep, oxen, and so forth (1 Sam. 15). He thought that offering some of the spoil as a sacrifice to God would justify his partial obedience, which really was nothing more than disobedience. Samuel the prophet had to come to Saul with these words:
Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the work of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king (1 Sam. 15:22, 23).
I am trying to show the following before I even discuss the sin of gambling: Other sins of a non-overt mental attitude can be involved in making our decisions on these overt matters. We sin by justifying ourselves, by allowing Satan to deceive us with false reasonings. These are matters of the heart.
Now, what about gambling? Does the Bible specifically say gambling is sin? It surely does if one will always keep in mind what gambling is. First, gambling is not work for what one gets but an attempt to get something the easy way. Working is the Biblical way to get what one needs materially:
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread (2 Thess. 3:10–12).
Second, gambling reflects an improper, sinful lust for material things or money. Why do people want to win huge sums of money, amounts far beyond what they need? God’s command is, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Jeremiah stated the principle this way: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jer. 22:13).
This leads to a third point. Gambling is a form of stealing. It’s taking something that has belonged to others. The apostle Paul stated in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
Fourth, gambling is addicting. When I taught in a Christian high school in California, I used to take the freeway past Las Vegas to get to my home state in the Midwest for visits. I was always amazed at the extremely heavy traffic between southern California and Las Vegas. I learned that many of the people represented by that traffic were compulsive gamblers who made that trip week after week! The apostle Paul said he wasn’t going to be mastered by anything as a bond servant of Christ. In Romans 6:22 he wrote, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
Then, too, gambling in any form is a poor testimony. If Jesus were living today, would He go to the store each week to buy lottery tickets? We believers should be completely above reproach in all our actions and practices, “shewing [ourselves] a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity” (Titus 2:7). The world is watching us.
Finally, gambling causes all sorts of disappointments, family conflicts, emotional problems, heartache, stress, and financial loss. It would be interesting to follow the end of people who get into this habit or who win large sums of money. The stories I have heard are not good. One lady put it this way concerning her husband and family: “When he wins he drinks and stops work, and when he loses he is so disagreeable there is no living with him, and the children are afraid to come in even for meals. And win or lose, there’s never a penny extra for clothes or shoes for me or for them, or for a bit of holiday.”
The question is always asked, “How can gambling be wrong? After all,” they argue, “life itself is a gamble. Driving my car on the street is a gamble; farmers gamble when they plant their crops, not knowing the outcome; savers gamble when they put money into a financial institution.” A vast difference exists between gambling and taking the necessary risks of life, between the risk of losing what we already have and investing our money. In the normal risks of life we can commit these uncertainties to a caring Heavenly Father. We can’t do that if we foolishly and willfully risk what we do not need to risk.
Others will ask, “What is wrong with just risking a little bit of my money? I’ll just do it once in a while; it’s money I don’t really need anyway.” Again, it’s the same old rationalization. That reasoning could—and is—used of any sin. Satan tries to convince us something isn’t wrong if we do just a little bit of it, whether it’s gossiping, gambling, or you name it.
Gambling deceives. It looks and starts innocent, but it mocks on the order of drinking (Prov. 20:1). I am interested in hearing what others reading this column have seen in this regard.
Mark Twain, no believer, said concerning gambling, “There are two times when he should not do it: when he can’t afford it, and when he can.” As believers in Christ we have all the more and even better reasons not to participate in gambling.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.