One dictionary definition of gambling is, ‘the act or practice of consciously risking money or other stakes without being certain of the outcome’. This definition, however, does not adequately explain all that gambling involves. A more precise definition, which takes account of all the factors involved in gambling, may be stated thus: ‘Gambling is an act by which one party consciously risks money or other stakes in the hope of gaining at someone else’s expense (I.e., if I win, he loses, and vice-versa), without giving anything of value in terms of goods in return (to the person from whom one has gained).’
It is immediately obvious from the last part of this definition that gambling is sinful. It involves breaking the eighth commandment: ‘Thou shalt not steal’. Gambling is basically an attempt to gain something at someone else’s expense without giving adequate value in return. The fact that the parties involved agree to this transaction is irrelevant and cannot justify it, any more than the fact that two men agree to fight a duel justifies one of the men killing the other. An agreement to do something wrong is itself wrong. If the one who gambles wins, he is a thief; if he loses, he is guilty of wasting that which the Lord has given to him in trust, whether money or property.
“The Federal Drug Administration estimates sport wagers at $70 billion in 1984. Even that number may be conservative. In 1981 the National Football League made its own estimate that pro football alone was attracting $50 billion a season. . . . It is not being overly dramatic to say that gambling poisons the atmosphere of any game it comes near.
Compulsive gambling is a disorder characterized by an overwhelming, uncontrollable obsession to gamble.
Among some of the typical behavior patterns associated with pathological or compulsive gambling are: a preoccupation with gambling; spending more time or money than can reasonably be afforded; and continuing to gamble despite adverse consequences that affect family, relationships, or educational or vocational pursuits.
Non-pathological and pathological gambling are currently stratified into four levels according to severity of consequences:
Level 0 – Non-gamblers
Level 1 – Social Gamblers – no ill effects from gambling
Level 2 – Problem Gamblers – some significant negative consequences due to gambling
Level 3 – Compulsive Gamblers – suffer severe consequences that can include financial devastation, divorce or damaged relationships, impaired physical or emotional health, job loss, and legal difficulties. People affected by compulsive gambling are at higher risk for suicide than most other populations.
A recent comprehensive study on gambling prevalence in the United States and Canada indicates that young people are particularly at risk for developing a severe gambling problem, with a rate of more than twice that of the general adult population. The study also shows that at least 13% of all college students will experience some form of a gambling problem in their lives. At least 90% of all adolescents will have gambled at least once by age 18. (Harvard School of Public Health)
Compulsive gambling shares many characteristics of other addictions, and is often called the invisible addiction. Latest views of this problem consider it more an addictive behavior than an impulse control disorder. When losing, compulsive gamblers become emotionally caught up in trying to win back losses, and when winning become overconfident that they will win more.
Gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational. The term "Problem Gambling" includes, but is not limited to, the condition known as "Pathological", or "Compulsive" Gambling, a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, "chasing" losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.
Gambling, both legal and illegal, is a phenomenon gaining unprecedented acceptance. Because it is so widespread, Christians must look at this activity to determine the ethical and moral implications.
Advocates of gambling often try to place this activity in the same category as other ventures which involve risk. They describe farming, business, insurance, and even investments as gambling because the outcome is unpredictable and losses can occur. In this way they hope to transfer the respectability of legitimate ventures to gambling.
L. M. Starkey, Jr., has made the following helpful observation: Life does have its normal risks which one must accept with faith and courage. These normal risks are in no sense equivalent to the risks in a game of chance. Gambling devises artificial risks in the hope of excessive gain far beyond what the investment of time, money, or skill would justify. In gambling the chance is unrelated to any creative effort called for by the farmer or the stockbroker in the responsible investment of his mental, monetary, and physical funds.
To distinguish gambling from risks involved in legitimate venture it will be helpful to recognize three factors integral to gambling: (1) An incentive consisting of money or merchandise is offered. (2) The prize is acquired primarily on the basis of chance. (3) A payment of money or other consideration is required to become involved in the chance taken.
Gambling then is recognized as any activity in which wealth changes hands, mainly on the basis of chance and with risk to the gambler. Creative effort, useful skills, and responsible investment are not integral factors.
cause gambling exists in many forms and people in increasing numbers are exposed to its temptations, the responsible Christian must form an opinion concerning its propriety. The legalization of gambling by government or its acceptance by some religious organizations cannot be a criterion for evaluation. The Christian attitude must be determined by the principles of Scripture.
God’s Attitude Toward Gambling
God’s people in Bible times apparently were not greatly tempted with gambling. It seems the vice manifested itself only when Israel was dominated by heathen nations. When gambling did occur God clearly indicated His attitude concerning it.
During their Babylonian captivity the Israelites came under the influence of people who gambled. As a result some of the captives also became involved. To these people God through Isaiah said, "But ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number" (Isaiah 65:11). As indicated in some modern translations of the Bible, the Hebrew words translated "troop" and "number" were names of the heathen gods "Gad" and "Meni." To the heathen, Gad was the giver of good luck. Meni was the god of bad luck.
The translation of Isaiah 65:11 by James Moffat is as follows: "But ye who have forsaken the Eternal, ye who ignore his sacred hill, spreading tables to Good Luck, pouring libations to Fate, I make the sword your fate."
E. H. Plumptre, late Dean of Wells, has pointed out that Gad was worshipped as the greater fortune, the giver of good luck. Meni was worshipped as the lesser fortune. George Rawlinson, who at one time served as professor of Ancient History at Oxford, has indicated the name Meni "designated a deity who apportions men’s fortunes to them."
The sin for which some of the Israelites were condemned was trusting in luck rather than God. Isaiah made it clear that trust in God and trust in luck cannot coexist. If people rely on chance it is evident they do not rely on God. Isaiah described those who trusted in gambling as "they that forsake the Lord" (Isaiah 65:11).
A careful reading of Scripture makes it clear there are numerous Biblical principles which indicate gambling is an evil to be avoided. When people recognize God’s authority they will honor the principles which indicate gambling is evil.
1. Gambling is wrong because it is a disregard of responsible stewardship.
The Bible clearly teaches that all things belong to God. "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1). Since all things belong to God, man is placed in the position of a steward who must give a proper accounting for everything given to him in trust.
The first step in a faithful administration of this stewardship is the giving of self to God. The believer must recognize he is not his own (1 Corinthians 6:19). He has been redeemed with a price, not of silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18,19). The churches of Macedonia set a worthy example of personal dedication when they "first gave their own selves to the Lord" (2 Corinthians 8:5). Life, with all it involves, is a stewardship to be administered for the glory of God.
People who honestly dedicate themselves to God will also recognize that all they possess must be handled as a stewardship. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) indicates that the good and faithful servants administered the talents entrusted to them in such a way that the master was pleased. The wicked and slothful servant failed in his administration and suffered the appropriate consequences.
When people recognize their stewardship responsibilities they will not consider gambling in any form a proper administration of divinely bestowed resources, time, and ability. Even the ethics of the world will not tolerate those who gamble with resources put in their trust. Christian responsibility transcends all other responsibility, and for the Christian, gambling is wrong. It is a total disregard of the principle of stewardship. It is a prostitution of God-given assets which should be used to glorify God and advance His kingdom.
2. Gambling is wrong because it involves a chance of gain at the expense and suffering of others.
The nature of gambling is such that a person has a chance of gain only because others have suffered loss. The economic benefits come only to a very few. The financial loss is borne by many who usually can least afford it. The fact that people involved in gambling are commonly referred to in derogatory terms by its promoters is an indication of the status to which they are reduced. Whether or not the financial loss is excessive, gamblers are basically losers while the operators of gambling establishments are the winners.
The suffering caused by gambling is totally inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture concerning love. Not only is the Christian to love those who are lovable, but even enemies. God’s people are to love their neighbors as themselves. The principle of love will prevent Christians from gambling because of the damage it does to others. The principle of love will cause Christians to oppose any effort by the state or any other organization to legalize any activity based on a weakness of people which degrades society.
William Temple, late Archbishop of Canterbury, stated the Christian position well when he wrote:
Gambling challenges that view of life which the Christian church exists to uphold and extend. Its glorification of mere chance is a denial of the divine order of nature. To risk money haphazardly is to disregard the insistence of the Church in every age of living faith that possessions are a trust, and that men must account to God for their use. The persistent appeal to covetousness is fundamentally opposed to the unselfishness which was taught by Jesus Christ and by the New Testament as a whole. The attempt (inseparable from gambling) to make profit out of the inevitable loss and possible suffering of others is the antithesis of that love of one’s neighbor on which our Lord insisted.
3. Gambling is wrong because it is inconsistent with the work ethic of Scripture.
Throughout Scripture the importance of work is emphasized. In several places the correlation between working and eating is stated. The Old Testament reminds us, "He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread" (Proverbs 12:11).
In the New Testament the same principle is stated with great forcefulness. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote: "When we were wi
th you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Not only does the Bible require that man should work for the necessities of life, but it also warns against the something-for-nothing, get-rich-quick approach. "He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 28:20). "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil [envious] eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him" (Proverbs 28:22). "Wealth gotten by vanity [without labor or exertion] shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labor shall increase" (Proverbs 13:11).
In the wisdom of God man was assigned work in the garden of Eden even before the Fall (Genesis 2:15ff). Though sin resulted in a change of the nature of work (Genesis 3:17,19) the responsibility of working was never rescinded. Any effort on man’s part to circumvent the work ethic of Scripture can result only in failure. Gambling, whether to secure wealth in a hurry or to place bread on the table, is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches about work.
4. Gambling is wrong because it tends to be habit-forming
Gambling, like other evils, has a tendency to become an addiction. As in the case of alcoholics and drug addicts, compulsive gamblers are dominated to the extent that they risk not only money, but everything meaningful in life. They have lost control of themselves.
This condition is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The Word of God points out that a Christian will refuse to be brought under the power even of lawful things (1 Corinthians 6:12). The person indwelled by the Holy Spirit will be characterized by temperance, or self-control (Galatians 5:23).
Those who have studied gambling addiction seem to agree there are six symptoms characteristic of compulsive gambling: (1) The activity becomes chronically repetitive. (2) It becomes a mania which precludes all other interests, including the home. (3) A pathologic optimism replaces the ability to learn from previous losing experiences. (4) The ability to stop in a winning situation no longer exists. (5) In spite of initial decisions to gamble only so much the addict invariably risks too much. (6) The activity seems to produce an enjoyable tension consisting of both pain and pleasure.
It is obvious that habitual gamblers are under the control of the compulsion to gamble. Rather than being servants of God, they are servants of a desire they cannot handle. Paul described the condition clearly when he wrote, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey" (Romans 6:16). Because of the degrading possibility of addiction, gambling should be considered an evil.
Christian Responsibility in Relation to Gambling
When the various truths of God’s Word are considered, the Christian cannot adopt a neutral stance toward gambling. There are responsibilities which he cannot ignore.
When the Bible instructs believers, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31), it certainly precludes gambling. God is not glorified when people put their trust in chance rather than in the Lord. When God’s Word teaches that we should "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22) it precludes gambling. There is no way in which a practice can be considered anything other than evil when it violates principles of God’s Word concerning stewardship, consideration of others and the dignity of honest labor.
Those who want to live according to Scripture will refrain from participation in any form of gambling. As the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) they will also do all within their power to discourage the legalization of gambling, whether to raise money for charity, church, or state.
Gambling is a game of chance. It involves a conscious risk in hope of making a profit, as in playing the lottery. Greed is often the motive in gambling and is prohibited in the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:17). Believers are to keep themselves from every type of evil (1 Thes. 5:22). Rather, the Old and New Testament teach the importance of hard work, integrity and steadfastness in achieving one’s goals (2 Thes. 3:10-12; Pro. 12:11). Those who illegally benefit from the gambling losses of others are often stealing (Pro. 20:10; Eph. 4:28).
Since institutions like the stock market also involve chance and the transfer of value from one person to another, one might ask, how do the stock market, futures, or insurance policies differ from gambling? Purchasing insurance or investing in the stock market does involve some risk. But the money is invested for the development of a business or the provision of one’s financial security. Chance is not the predominant factor. Gambling, however, is based on chance, using pure luck to acquire “easy money” or get rich quick. Some religious groups have used games of chance like bingo as a means of fund raising.
There can be serious consequences from gambling. Such things as a loss of income, indebtedness, and strained family relations are among them. Games of chance can affect the mental, emotional and spiritual health of a person and may result in addiction. Gamblers Anonymous seeks to help those who have become addicted to gambling.
A sovereign God is Lord over all of life and is not subject to games of chance (Psa. 33:6-12; Isa. 46:8-11; Rom. 11:36). He provides for the financial needs of believers according to His will (Phi. 4:19). But He usually uses hard work, industry, and a moral lifestyle to provide for those needs.
Casting of Lots. The casting of lots under the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament was a common practice (Num. 26:52-56; 1 Sam. 10:20-21; 1 Chr. 24:5). It was used to make decisions for God’s people. Matthias, a replacement for Judas, was chosen by lot (Acts 1:26). The early church evidently discontinued the practice, relying instead on the Holy Spirit, the principles taught by the early Apostles elders, and approval by church body (Acts 6:1-6, 13:1-2). Casting lots therefore cannot be equated with the modern idea of gambling.
In His Grace Forever,
Pastor Teddy Awad, CMHP
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