By Carl McMurray
Gambling is not a new problem with mankind. Like other deceptive works of the world, it has gone through periods of time when people were fooled into accepting (even defending) it and times when it was decried as a great evil. A pendulum that swings through society this way is bound to affect the church. There are always some, it seems, who will be influenced to practice whatever the “nations round about them practice.” Our Father’s admonition to “come out from their midst and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17), doesn’t seem to have the power that the world’s invitation has when it says, “come join us and have fun,” or “get rich.”
What Is Gambling?
Some fail to understand what gambling is and this leads to foolish statements being made to defend it. The sinful act of gambling consists of three aspects: (1) an uncertain event, usually some type of game that “creates” risk, (2) a stake that is deliberately chanced, and (3) profit at the loss of another. The sinful activity of gambling should not be confused with “risk” or “chance.” Gamblers quibble that “life is a gamble” or “farming is a gamble.” Insurance companies and the stock market are often equated to lotteries as “gambles.” These are all just smoke screens.
Life may indeed involve the “chance” of sickness, accident and death. But a chance is not gambling. Gambling involves “betting” on the “outcome” of the “chance.” We do not wager on (and win or lose) the outcome of accidents and sickness. Life is not gambling.
Farmers face the “risk” of pests, disease, drought, wind, hail, etc. when it comes to their crops and animals. But these are all calculated “risks” that the farmer understands when he goes into business. They are not uncertain ones. These “risks” are not “created” in some game: they are always present, whether one farms or not. Farmers do not seek something for nothing. They engage in productive labor to earn their living. They plow, plant, irrigate, immunize, fertilize and inoculate. In other words, they do all in their power to lower the “risks” as they produce their goods. When they profit, it is not at the expense of others. Farming is not gambling.
Insurance is not gambling. Once again, the risks are not created, they are universal. Death, injury and loss are faced by all, whether you buy insurance or not. Insurance is a method of lessening and distributing the effects of these tragedies. In exchange for monies, the insurance company provides a service protection from major loss. Neither the insurer nor the insured expects something for nothing. A service is being bought.
Likewise, the stock market is not gambling. When one buys stock in a company he is investing in that business. It is his hope that the business will make money and either pay dividends on his investment or his stock will be worth more and he can sell and make a profit. In a free enterprise system, there is always the “chance” of a business loss. That is the result of the company’s ability to merchandise their product and make a good return. It is not a contrived risk and any profit is based upon an exchange of goods or services, not the loss of others. Investing funds and making (or losing) funds in exchange for goods or services is an acceptable, proper and scriptural endeavor. “Chance” or “risk” is always present. but this is not gambling.
Gamblings’ Tainted Past
The Greeks in Homer’s time had knucklebones from sheep and goats that were marked to serve as dice. A gambling board was discovered in Crete that dates back to 1800-1900 B.C. And Tertullian said, “If you say that you are a Christian when you are a dice player, you say what you are not, because you are a partner with the world.” It doesn’t seem that the charge of gambling as worldliness is a new one.
Those who support gambling in the public arena, in the form of lotteries, have tried to point out how “American” they are. We are told that the Continental Congress authorized a lottery to finance the Revolutionary War. We are reminded that three great Americans (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin) supported lotteries. Are you impressed yet?
In spite of the above, by 1900, every state had outlawed lotteries because of widespread corruption and crime. Just like Israel in the time of the judges however, a new generation rose up that had not fought those battles. In 1963, New Hampshire became the first state to forget the lessons of history and reinstate a legalized lottery. The pendulum kept swinging. By 1989 thirty-two states and the District of Columbia legalized lotteries.
If history teaches us anything, it is that the pendulum of immorality or vice will continue to swing until great harm and ruin are accomplished before people will start to wake up and take a stand and change things. The Christian how-ever, does not have to wait for the crash to know that there is a problem with lotteries and horse tracks and other forms of gambling. The child of God, who keeps his heart open to God’s instruction, in his word is able to determine that gambling in any form is something to be avoided. He can see that it is wrong for a variety of reasons. For example gambling is wrong because.. .
It Is A Form of Covetousness!
To “covet” is to long for something which belongs to another. Romans 13:9 indicates that coveting under the new covenant is a sinful practice. Ephesians 5:5 teaches that no covetous man “has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Gambling is built upon and encourages covetousness. For someone to win, a lottery or any other gamble, someone else must lose! Every person in the game is hoping to put everyone else’s money into his bank account. Those winnings don’t drop out of the sky. They are the result of another man’s work and labor, and the gambler wants them.
Someone might respond to the charge of covetousness with, “But that person voluntarily put his money in the pot.” It doesn’t matter. No one is making the charge of “theft.” The point that we are making is that gambling is “covetousness,” i.e. the desire for that which belongs to another. The truth is, when a gambler desires the stakes in a game of chance, he desires what belongs to another. If a man voluntarily requests to be killed, does that make the killer any less a murderer? Likewise, if one man’s greed or covetousness leads him to hazard his good and honest earnings, does that excuse the Christian who “desires” (covets) that man’s money and is willing to take the same chance, so that he might get that money.
Of course, the above would not apply in the case of raffles where the stakes are perhaps donated by local businesses and such like. In those situations the businesses are exchanging merchandise (the stakes) for advertising. Exchange of goods is an honest and acceptable way for property to change hands. The business is paying for advertising with merchandise. The ticket holders are in actuality making donations. No one is taking what belongs to another or desiring something which is out of order. I believe the same would apply to door prizes, free lucky numbers, etc.
Gambling is also sinful however, because . . .
1.It breaks the second greatest commandment. Jesus said to, “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39). This was the second greatest commandment. Most people I know become highly indignant if someone tries to take their money without some exchange of goods or services. Yet, this is exactly what gambling does. There is no exchange, but the gambler’s desire is to take everybody’s money that is in the pot. This plainly violates the “golden rule” that Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12. Once again, doing this with the consent of the other gamblers doesn’t make it right. When we try to take another’s money without giving a fair return in goods or services, we are rejecting our Lord’s words on how to treat our fellow man. This be-comes a serious matter when we consider John 12:48. Jesus says, “the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” Can a man treat others with contempt and stand guiltless at judgment?
The one involved in will-worship narrows his focus to a specific activity such as instrumental music or sprinkling, so that he doesn’t have to admit that in the larger picture of obeying God or disobeying him, he does not have to face the truth that he is not doing as God has said. He tries to trivialize his “one” specific activity and ignore the graver consequences of his actions. The abortionist narrows his focus to the “rights of the woman.” That is all they will speak about. They refuse to admit the graver consequences of their actions, that innocent children by the millions are dehumanized and slaughtered. By such mental exercises, men strive to live with themselves as they disobey God. The gambler also narrows his focus. He might narrow it to “just one dollar” for a ticket or he might narrow it to “all the good that is done” by lotteries, i.e. funds for education, etc., etc. (Ha!). What he refuses to see is that the million dollar jackpots represent, not money won, but money lost! Money lost from the flow of legitimate business enterprises. Money lost, statistics say, from those who can ill-afford to lose it. The biggest majority of ticket buyers in most lotteries are from the lower income brackets. The gambler doesn’t like to think about the fact that if he wins, he has taken that money from others. Especially is this a heavy burden for the Christian who is aware of his Lord’s teachings on how to treat others. Can the behavior of the gambler harmonize with scriptural admonition?
2. It encourages a love of money. It does not seem possible that you could have the above two situations (i.e. covetousness and profit at another’s loss) without recognizing the “root” problem here. We’re warned in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 about “those who want to get rich” and the “temptations” and “snares” that await them. One of the snares that deceive Christians seems to be the trap that we fall into when we start trying to justify our worldliness. Rather than listen to our Father’s warnings and bringing our attitude and actions into harmony with his word, we ignore Scriptures and convince ourselves that “I am different that doesn’t apply to me.” As hard as it might be in our materialistic society, we need to defeat this love of money that will make us ignore God’s word and take advantage of our fellow man. Lotteries and other forms of gambling will do this to our heart. The love of money will cause the greatest among us to lose his spirituality.
One preacher that I know used to stand foursquare opposed to the practice of gambling, including the local lottery. He not only preached it to the brethren, he also preached it to his own mother, who liked to spend her meager income on tickets. He had no doubts about it until he was asked what would happen if she won? He already had a few plans of his own for some of that money. As long as nobody was winning, it seems, the conviction was strong. But the chance to actually possess some of those “riches” is a powerful tool to cause any of us to dip his hand in.
We need to be aware of all the schemes that Satan has to take our minds off of spiritual things and get it centered on “all the kingdoms of the world,” as he offered to our Lord. Jesus Christ refused the temptation and so can you and I. We need to live our lives and shape our attitudes toward others by the instructions that God gives in his word.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 2 p. 6-7
January 19, 1995