Modern America has many vices, but one that frequently gets overlooked as being spiritually problematic is the prevalence of gambling. Literally billions upon billions of dollars are gambled away every-year in this country, often with the direct encouragement of the state, which is a full-fledged participant in all too many cases.
To get some idea of the scope of the issue, New Jersey recently bragged that they had received over a billion dollars worth of sport-related bets in one single month. While this makes them the largest receiver of sports-bets in the country, several other states reportedly are eager to compete. Nor is it solely the province of the states. Anytime a small group wants to raise money, nearly the first suggestion latched onto is the holding of a raffle, allowing people to gamble away their money so as to create profit for the charity.
Throughout the years, gospel preachers have routinely pointed out that material gambling, defined as two or more parties putting up material stakes with the winner taking those stakes based on the outcome of some random or semi-random event, is sinful and that faithful Christians who care about doing right should not participate.
There are several reasons why gambling, though not mentioned by name in the bible as a sin, is nevertheless condemned by the Scriptures.
First, and not least, gambling is antithetical to a loving heart. The love God teaches is willing to suffer loss for the good of others. A gambling heart desires others to suffer material loss for the good of self. Christ commands us to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35; cf. Philippians 2:3-8). Any activity which prevents us from practicing the love of Christ should be rejected as wrong.
Secondly, gambling is antithetical to the work ethic promoted by the gospel of Christ. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Ephesians 4:18; ESV).” For the follower of Christ, gain is to be got, not through taking from others, but through good and honest labor, and the purpose of said gain is not solely nor primarily the enriching of self, but an increase in the capability of doing good for others. Gambling is habitually done both for the benefit of self, and as a means of bypassing the “honest labor” God promotes. Rather than seeking to do things contrary to God’s plan, we should be seeking to conform to God’s plan.
Thirdly, gambling is antithetical to the content heart the Bible teaches. “Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6),” the Spirit teaches, adding “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:9-10; ESV)” Constantly dreaming about winning what we don’t have, and throwing money after the same, is both wrong and impractical. Much better to simply work and save, being content with what God blesses us with in the moment.
But this brings us to a last thought relative to the phenomena. Gambling is antithetical to the heart of faith which God desires in His people. God wants us to believe that He will reward us, and He desires for us to seek for that reward from Him (cf. Hebrews 11:6) not from some other.
“All your commandments are sure (Psalm 119.86),” the Psalmist declares of God’s word. God can be relied upon by His children to provide what is necessary (cf. Matthew 7:11). Moreover, when we obey God’s word, we can expect blessings to follow. Granted, reaping these benefits requires effort on our part in the form of obedience but it is the slothful who prefer the dream of good things happening apart from effort. God who promised is faithful (cf. Hebrews 10:23), and God teaches that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). If we will trust God, and obey God, we will “win” ever so much more than we ever could from any lottery, but we have to have the faith which trusts God, rather than that seeking to find a shortcut to happiness.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.