Speaking Sound Doctrine


III.   Gambling

Gambling and its effects are all around us every day, enticing us with the prospect of getting something for nothing.  You can buy a lottery ticket in most any convenience store and hear all about it on the evening television news.  A variety of casinos and race tracks are usually never far away.  You can now also do your betting over the Internet.  It has even flavored our everyday language: "odds are..."; "five will get you ten."  I'll bet you didn't think about that.

The word "gamble" is not found in the Bible, and the student would be hard-pressed to even find an example of it in scripture.  So, there is no direct command against the practice.  However, just because the word or instance is not found in the Bible does not mean it has nothing to say about it; Bible instruction is typically in the form of principle.  For example, in Galatians 5, the apostle lists the works of the flesh, and in verse 21, in case he missed something by name, says "...and things like these."  Therefore, we should examine whether gambling is a work of the flesh in principle.

A.       Definition

First, we need to define what we mean by the term.  Gambling is defined by Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "to play or game for money or other stake; to hazard; wager."  Three key points can be derived from this definition as follows:

1.       Something of value to be gained or lost is placed deliberately in hazard.

2.       Winning is determined by some arbitrary event of chance or uncertainty not inherent to the wager.

3.       Profits come at the loss of other participants without whom there is no gamble.

A typical argument in favor of gambling is that there are many risks we take in everyday life.  It can be said, in a sense, that walking across the street is a gamble in which you risk getting hit by a car.  Life insurance and the Stock Market are other examples.  However, we do not deliberately cross the street in order to place ourselves in a hazard.  No one else gains anything of value we have wagered if we do not successfully negotiate the transaction, and we stand to gain nothing they have wagered if we do.  The point is, not everything in life that is a risk or a matter of chance is gambling in the sense under consideration.

Another argument often heard in favor of gambling is that it is just another form of entertainment.  Much of what we do for amusement or excitement involves deliberately placing ourselves in hazardous situations.  People die almost daily from accidents involving snow skiing, bungee jumping, sky diving, mountain climbing, or motorcycle riding.  The point is, not every hazardous activity in life in which we willfully participate for exhilaration is gambling.  These situations, though involving risk, are not so arbitrary.  If the rule was that sometimes the roller coaster arbitrarily stays on the track and sometimes it arbitrarily does not, only the suicidally insane would ever ride a roller coaster.  Moreover, the gamble is not the event of chance itself; it is the wager against the event of chance.  The event itself is essentially beside the point; it can be anything the wagerers agree to.

An important part of the definition is "gaming."  Games of chance wherein you stand to win a thing of value always require more than one player; you can't win money playing solitaire.  So then, the gambler, by definition, always stands to gain by other people's loss.  Furthermore, this game is not to be compared, for example, to professional sports, where the prize is earned by a superior performance, and the losing competitors do not provide the purse.

These three elements are most easily seen by the illustration of a gambling game in its most primitive form.  (1) Two men willingly agree to contribute one dollar which is pooled into a pot.  (2) They agree to base their choosing on a simple coin toss: a chance event having no inherent connection to the money collected.  (3) They agree that the one thus winning takes back his dollar plus the dollar the other participant so loses.  That is the essence of the gamble.  Any activity characterized by these three elements is gambling in the sense being considered.  In practice, gambling can become more diverse and complicated with higher stakes, game rules, and weighted odds, but the three basic elements are always there.

B.       Principles

Now let's look for some Bible principles that may have a bearing on gambling.

1.           Covetousness

Gambling is essentially based on the evil desire to get money or goods which belong to someone else without giving fair value in exchange.  The Bible calls this sin "covetousness" and makes it clear that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Romans 1:28-32).

1 Corinthians 6:9, 10

Ephesians 5:5

Colossians 3:5, 6

Note that Paul identifies covetousness as idolatry.  Idolatry, in its most basic understanding, is anything that we would love and follow after more than God.

2.           Deceit

Not all forms of gambling involve deceit, but many do.  Events involving some competitive action of the participants, like billiards, typically do.  The hustle, to some, is considered the ultimate gamble, because the odds of winning are thought to be increased.  For example, the typical pool hustle is executed by deliberately losing when the stakes are low, thereby concealing the player's true skill level.  After a while, when the stakes are very high, the competitor begins to play his best.  One might argue that this is therefore not gambling because it is no longer a chance event, but it is; no one knows when the hustler might get hustled.  This whole scenario is based on treachery, dishonesty, and deceit, and it's a part of gambling.

Someone may argue that there is nothing wrong with deceiving a deceiver; they get what they deserve.  Not so: the faithful Christian behaves uprightly before all men.  Consider these verses:

Proverbs 12:20

Proverbs 26:24-27

Mark 7:21-23

1 Peter 2:1

1 Peter 3:8 - 10

The scriptures not only condemn deceit but warn against being deceived.  Organized gambling institutions lure patrons with glitzy casinos, lavish hotels, and clever advertisements.  They never show the gambler broken down and destitute.  Reports indicate that casinos play audio recordings of the clanging coins of a slot machine jackpot hit to make people think winning is a frequent occurrence.

Colossians 2:8

3.           Industriousness

For an equitable economic society, God has ordained each citizen to be industrious: engaged in some form of occupation to sustain himself or his family.  For examples, the scriptures indicate three legitimate means of providing a livelihood:

4.       Wages for labor:

Acts 20:33-35

1 Thessalonians 3:9, 10

1 Thessalonians 4:11

2 Thessalonians 3:7-13

1 Timothy 5:18

Even if a man becomes independently wealthy, the godly man never becomes lazy; he can always work to share his wealth with others.  God's plan involves an honorable day's work for a commensurate day's pay.  However, the gambler's profits come solely from the labor of others on the basis of chance, not effort.

5.       The exchange of things of value: buying and selling investments:

Matthew 25:27

James 4:13, 15

Buying and selling for gain or loss in the Stock Market should not be compared with gambling; they are different in critical ways.  Though participation in the Stock Market involves risk and uncertainty, it does not fit the three-point definition of gambling.  In stock trading, consider that (1) the money people invest is not pooled for later distribution; it actually buys small parts of companies that produce goods or render services.  (2) Furthermore, profits do not come as a result of some arbitrary chance event; they come as a result of the hard work and success of the companies in which they invested.  (3) Also, the money people earn in stock trading does not depend upon the losses of others who also have invested.

6.       Giving and receiving gifts:

Ephesians 4:28

Acts 2:44, 45

1 Timothy 5:9, 16

The gambler never gives without hoping for something in return.

Luke 6:34

Gambling is none of these things and therefore contrary to God's plan for a legitimate economy.

4.           Self Control

Gambling can be addictive.  When the gambler senses that he has the real chance of becoming rich beyond his imagination, even as remote as this chance could possibly be, it creates psychological exhilaration.  Researchers believe that intense excitement can release chemicals called "endorphins" produced in the body which have an effect like a pain-killing drug.  This thrill or "emotional high" keeps the gambler coming back time after time, even if he continually loses.  In our society today, we see support groups existing to help millions of citizens addicted to gambling.  Gamblers often destroy their homes, marriages, and livelihoods.  Our study of drug abuse takes a closer look at addiction, but it should be sufficient for now to say that a lack of self-control is at the heart of addiction, and God's word requires us to have self control.  This destructive cycle is generated by nothing more than desires of the flesh, but it can be broken by pursuing spiritual things.  Consider these passages:

2 Timothy 3:2-4

1 Corinthians 6:12

Gambling is diametrically opposed to contentment.  Many addicts end up stealing or embezzling to pay their debts or support their habit.  As discontentment leads to misery, some gambling addicts will eventually turn to drunkenness to try to find contentment or even commit suicide.  Law enforcement authorities frequently report murders in connection with gambling debts.  No matter how you sell it, gambling is not in the best interest of our society.

1 Timothy 6:10

The best way to avoid an addiction is to never begin the addictive practice in the first place.  Someone may argue "I can control it; I won't let it get out of hand."  Every addict thinks this at first; no gambling addict ever started out seriously thinking, "I will probably be miserably addicted to this someday."  Besides, even if you are able to keep it from getting out of control, your participation may encourage others to gamble who may not have the same self-control.  Then, you are guilty of leading them into sin, and your influence for good is lost.

5.           Stewardship

Gambling also touches the issue of stewardship of the resources God has given us.  God has provided us with gifts, talents, and resources, which are to be used by us for the furtherance of his kingdom.  If we needlessly and arbitrarily place these gifts at risk for mere entertainment or for additional gain, we are not being good stewards.  Luke 15:11 begins the story of the prodigal son who is condemned for wasting his goods on riotous living.

1 Corinthians 4:2

C.       The Works Of The Flesh

So then, where does gambling fit in the life of a faithful Christian; is it a fruit of the Spirit or a work of the flesh?

Galatians 5:19; Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Of the sins listed, the honest Bible student will immediately recognize the connection between many of these and gambling:

·          Idolatry [EIDOLOLATRIA] - avarice, as a worship of Mammon (J. H. Thayer).

·          Jealousies [ZELOS] - ardor in embracing, pursuing, defending anything … the fierceness of indignation … contentious rivalry (J. H. Thayer).

·          Selfish ambitions [ERITHEIA] - a desire to put one's self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts (J. H. Thayer); ambition, self-seeking, rivalry, and self-will (W. E. Vine).

·          Envy [PHTHONOS] – the desire to deprive another of what he has (W. E. Vine).

These are the characteristics of gambling.

D.       Principles in Review

We have examined the Bible principles at play in gambling.  Though the Bible nowhere says "you shall not gamble," we have found gambling to be contrary the scriptural principles of contentment, selflessness, honesty, industriousness, self-control, influence, stewardship, and spirituality.  Many of the gambler's traits are described in this scripture:

2 Timothy 3:2-4

Let's be certain of one thing: if gambling violates divine principles, it is sin.  The faithful Christian will not engage in it or give approval of those that do (Romans 1:29-32).

E.        Applications

Let's look now at applying these principles to daily life.

1.           What about moderation?

Someone may argue that there is nothing wrong with gambling in insignificant amounts.  They may reason that $20 once a year is nothing to them, and losing it in gambling is no different from spending $20 on some frivolous knickknack for their house.  However, to someone else, that $20 may be significant: it might put several needed meals on their family's table.  So who's to say how little is small enough?  We have demonstrated so far that gambling stands in violation of God's will on the basis of divine principles; it is a matter principle, not proportion.  Gambling comes in many forms, and the faithful Christian will keep his distance from every one of them.

1 Thessalonians 5:22

2.           What about "social gambling?"

Satan offers the temptation to engage in gambling in insidious ways.  At some workplaces, "office pools" are frequently arranged.  The wager can be over anything from a ball game to guessing a newborn baby's weight.  Typically, everyone is asked to put in just a dollar or two, and who ever wins the draw gets the pot.  They will often pressure you to participate, because, of course, the more that does, the bigger the pot.

Another similar thing frequently happens with a foursome on the golf course.  Before beginning, they all arbitrarily agree that the loser will buy all of them drinks at the end.  It may not be obvious, but this fits all the elements of gambling.  Essentially, they have each agreed to put up the amount of money required to buy all the drinks.  (In most gambling games, only one or just a few people win; the majority of the players lose.  However, in this case, the agreed rule is that three of them win and only one loses.)  The winners get their money back plus a free drink; the loser loses the value of three drinks (he enjoys the one he buys for himself).  They may not lay their money on the table or verbalize all this, but all three elements are there: (1) the deliberate hazarding of a thing of value to be gained or lost, (2) an arbitrary chance event (the game is the wager, not the golf), and (3) the winners' profits come from the losses of another.  That's gambling.  A gambling addict and former NBA referee confessed that wagering on the golf course was his starting point.  Our tendency may be just to go along in order to get along, but if we do so, we violate divine principles.

1 Peter 4:3-5

3.           What about worthy causes?

Satan really gets crafty here.  Sometimes, raffles are held.  In these, there are often two winners: one a game player and one not.  The winner who is not a game player is typically some group of needy people, and they usually never know how the money is actually raised.  The players might all be asked to buy a ticket for $10. Depending on how many players they can recruit, they might award $1000 to the charity and $1000 to some "lucky winner."  This fits the gambling definition and is thus an ungodly practice.  No amount of good accomplished by it can validate the method.

This becomes even more insidious when the worthy cause is a religious organization, especially when the largest denomination in the world claiming to worship Jesus Christ practices this.  In fact, the word "bingo" could almost become a synonym for the institution.  We may ask what could be wrong with gambling when many religious leaders sanction it.  However, remember that the traditions of man-made religion are not our standard for authority.

The same principle holds true for a pledge.  What if you make a promise to God that if you win the lottery, you'll give half your winnings to the church?  Think of how much good work could be done for the Lord with millions of dollars in the treasury!  Let's not deceive ourselves; the end does not justify the means. 

It's sad that some people must be motivated to give by catering to their "what's-in-it-for-me" attitude.  If you wish to give money to a worthy cause, just give the money without a desire for anything in return.

Luke 6:35

We may be tempted to argue, "What difference does it make whether I give this way or that?  What does it hurt to give with the chance of getting something in return?"  The difference is: these actions are in violation of divine principles.

4.           What about using other people’s money?

Consent = Participation

2 Corinthians 5:11-17

5.           What about playing games without wagering?

Virtually any random event or game can be wagered upon.  Any sport from ping pong to polo can be a gambling vehicle.  Certain games, however, have become particularly connected with gambling by the frequent association.  These games include billiards, cards (especially poker), and horse racing.  Apart from wagering, there's nothing in these activities inherently contrary to godly principles.  It is the wagering that is wrong; the gamble is not in the game itself.

1 Timothy 4:8

1 Corinthians 9:24, 25

F.        Conclusion

We have demonstrated that gambling is a violation of clear godly principles.  Let's be certain of one thing: if gambling violates divine principles, it is sin.  The faithful Christian will not engage in it or give approval of those that do (Romans 1:29-32).  In Philippians 4:8, the inspired apostle makes a representative list of noble things.  Gambling qualifies for none of them.

G.       Thoughts And Questions For Discussion

1.       What three elements must be involved for an activity to be gambling according to this discussion?


2.       Explain in your own words the significant difference between taking a risk and gambling.


3.       What is the meaning of "stewardship?"


4.       List the three legitimate modes of income revealed in scripture.


5.       What is wrong with playing "the loser pays" game?


6.       Can you think of any circumstance or condition where gambling as described would be acceptable conduct?



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