Is gambling a sin? This question may seem like an easy one to answer. We could give a simple response and close out this episode, but instead, we are choosing to dig deeper into the topic, learn about it, and learn what the Word of God has to say about the consequences connected with gambling.
Definition of Gambling
In order to answer the question, “is gambling a sin?” we must first understand what gambling is. Gambling takes place when something of material value, typically money, is risked with the possibility of winning more on an event with an uncertain outcome. Whether betting on a sporting event, playing a card game such as poker, buying a lottery ticket, or spinning a roulette wheel, one thing is certain: when it comes to gambling, the outcome is at least partly decided by chance.
Clinton, Tim, and Eric Scalise. The Quick-Reference Guide to Addictions and Recovery Counseling: 40 Topics, Spiritual Insights, and Easy-to-Use Action Steps. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013. Print.
In other words, gambling is leveraging what you already own to get more through means that are statistically unlikely to work and could lead to devastating loss.
Forms of Gambling
Though this list is not exhaustive, there are many forms of gambling.
- Wagering money (cards/casino): This would be taking one’s money to chance it on various “games” or “skill” gaming with the desire and hope that their initial wager would bring about more than what they put down as the wager.
- Examples: Poker, blackjack, all sorts of dice games, bingo, roulette, and slot machines.
- Placing bets (competition/sports): This would be putting money down on a future competition with hopes that the one that you selected would win the competition.
- Examples: Boxing, wrestling, baseball, football, horse and dog races along with car races…and much, much more (any and all sports today people are placing bets on the winners!)
- Chance Games: What would be a part of this category would be your local and national lotteries. It would also include any and all raffles both locally and nationally where one would purchase a “chance” or ticket to win.
- Almost always the odds of winning through these “chance games” are one in a million, if not one in a hundred million.
Categories of Gambling
- Friendly Wager:
- A Friendly Wager, or Social Gamble, is typically done with friends and family for the “fun” of it. Usually, the financial hit is minimal.
- At this level, there is almost always no addiction or compulsive drive to keep going deeper in a financial hole.
- Problem gambling:
- Problem gambling–or gambling addiction–includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. … In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide. (From National Council on Problem Gambling website)
- Compulsive gambling:
- This individual has an uncontrollable urge, passion, and/or desire to press forward in placing bets and taking risky chances despite the negative toll outcome for that bet. And, in their loss or extreme loss, they are determined to take more chances to recoup their losses. This person cannot stop, even when they win!
- Professional gambling:
- In this category, the individual uses gambling as a way to either supplement or it is their main form of income.
- Almost always this individual has a strong sense of self control and knows when to step back or shut down. This is a RARE characteristic of a gambler. Almost always, one will have “heart” struggles that will lead to further gambling.
The Heart of the Gambler
- The gambler’s heart struggles with greed.
- Greed is the excessive desire for more than what is needed.
- “Greed” in the Greek means “striving for material possessions,” and it is usually connected with their taking advantage of another.
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15, NIV84)
- The gambler’s heart is stimulated (or enticed) by coveting.
- “Covet” in Hebrew means “to delight in, to desire,” and is used both positively and negatively.
- Coveting is: strongly desiring what belongs to another…or to be consumed with envy.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17, NIV84).
The Heart of God and Gambling
“God’s heart is grieved by gambling … because devotion is diverted from God Himself and passionately placed on the gaming world. Rather than pursuing the eternal God, gamblers pursue temporal gain, enmeshed in the things of this world.” (June Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Gambling)
- Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14, NIV84)
- Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:2, NIV84).
- Is gambling a sin? Well, as for all things, if it comes between you and your worship of the Lord, then yes!
The Bible and Gambling
We need to give credit where credit is due. The initial processing of these contrasts stem from an outline in June Hunt’s book Biblical Counseling Keys on Gambling. We highly recommend this booklet if one would like to dive deeper into this thinking and discussion.
So, let’s look at some of the contrasts between what the Scriptures say and the heart, mind and processing of the gambler:
- Careless vs. Wise
- The gambler is lackadaisical and even careless with their money and assets.
- The Bible speaks encourages wisdom for the one that is a steward of the Lord’s money.
- “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children…” (Proverbs 13:22a, NIV84)
- Winning vs. Working
- The gambler is consumed with the win. Even when they win, they want to win again!
- The Steward is about working unto the Lord, and through this, honoring Him in all that they do and think.
- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…” (Colossians 3:23, NIV84)
- “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15, NIV84)
- Get-rich-quick vs. Get-to-work
- Gambling contains a very, very strong desire to become rich and to do so very quickly (no matter the cost).
- The Steward is to be about working diligently. Slow and steady wins the race!
- “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV84)
- “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, NIV84)
- Luck vs. Labor
- The gambler operates on chance, luck and hope.
- The Steward is called to work diligently within the will of God, and it is then they gain the reward of their labor.
- “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” (Psalm 128:1–2, NIV84)
- Wagering for something vs. working to give something
- Gambling is about wagering with hopes to get something.
- The Steward is about providing for their family and others in need!
- “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28, NIV84)
- Neglect vs. Need
- The gambler more often than not will neglect themselves and their family to go for the “win.”
- The Steward on the other hand will almost, if not always put the needs of their family (and others) before themselves!
- “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV84)
- Selfishness vs. Trusting
- The gambler’s heart tends towards selfishness and greed.
- The Steward is trusting in God for their provisions.
- “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.” (Proverbs 28:25, NIV84)
- Temporal vs. Eternal
- The gambler focuses on the things of this world.
- The Steward stores up treasures in Heaven.
- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20, NIV84)
Is Gambling a Sin?
Let’s answer the question using logic.
Does the Bible pit foolishness and wisdom against each other? Yes, they are opposites.
- Is Gambling foolish? Yes
- Is foolishness a sin? Not always… maybe? Gray area?
- Does the Bible condemn foolishness? Certainly yes, absolutely.
- Therefore, we should avoid foolishness in the form of gambling, because the Word of God condemns foolishness.
Flip the script…
- Is Stewardship wise? Yes
- Does the Bible encourage and command wisdom? Always!
- Therefore, we should pursue wisdom through Biblical stewardship because the Word of God encourages wisdom with our finances.
The Bible does not necessarily speak directly to condemning gambling, betting, the lottery and games of chance. HOWEVER, the Bible DOES say that we are to stay away from three key areas:
- Get-rich-quick schemes.
- Loving money.
- Materialism (having a focus on this world and it’s things)
So, is gambling a sin? Does it really fall into the ‘sin’ category? Yes…and no.
- Casual “gambling” or “betting” (I bet you a slice of pizza or a dinner out) would not be cataloged as sin, but it is potentially foolish and not wise as a steward.
“Sin shoots God. Folly shoots yourself. Sin opposes God. Folly opposes yourself.” – John Piper
Gambling and betting crosses the line from foolishness to sin when it impacts your finances, family, thoughts, and emotions. Most importantly, it becomes dangerous as it impacts your relationship with God!
Consider steering clear of any and all sorts of gambling, which includes games of luck and chance. Sadly, as many of our worldly sins come to the point of overcoming us, it is by our choosing to dabble in the perceived “fun” and “excitement”. If you think you have a tendency to push the envelope, consider steering clear of all sorts of gambling.
Can I have this part of my luxury budget?
- The choice of using your money for gambling would be a poor use of those funds. If your gambling is connected in any sorts with a casino or that industry, you are funding an industry that exploits the poor, encourages greed, and traps people in greed and poverty. Casinos should be avoided, as they are most definitely not making this world a better place!
Gambling is not outside the sovereign control of God. We read in the Scriptures that, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33, NIV84) God is ultimately and always in control! So, if you are a brother or sister in the Lord that does gamble, could your losses be a means of God getting your attention?
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