Q: Is Gambling a Sin?
A: Over ten years ago this column responded to the same question. At that time it was noted that our country was not far from having a national lottery. The national lottery, state lotteries, bingo halls, casinos of all kinds-these are now a part of the American way of life. Atlantic City and Las Vegas have virtually moved as close as the doorstep for every one of us.
No passage in Scripture plainly says, “Gambling is a sin,” just as there is no passage in the Bible which directly says, “Smoking is a sin.” To determine the proper answer to this question, then, demands more than simply saying a “yes” or “no” answer. However, one can still draw clear inferences from Bible passages pertinent to the issue of gambling.
What is included in the definition of “gambling”? What important principles from Scripture need to be reviewed in response to the various activities placed under that label? The second question is easier to address as we examine some key Scriptural principles.
1) Scripture warns against greed and avarice. “People who want to be rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. . .” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10). “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). See also the Ninth and Tenth Commandments on coveting. Consider also the First Commandment, to which Luther gave the explanation: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
2) We are to be good managers, or stewards, of all that God has given us. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously, will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 8:6-8). “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
3) God’s Word promotes the work ethic for obtaining the necessities for living: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14). “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).
4) Stealing is forbidden in the Seventh Commandment. This includes “getting” our neighbor’s money “in a dishonest way.” In our ELS Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, we find this comment: “We get our neighbor’s money or goods in a dishonest way by such sins as cheating, gambling, bribing, overcharging, giving false measure, and filing false tax returns” (Question # 70).
What is included in the definition of gambling? We may find a range of opinions among our readership. Some speak of “recreational gambling.” This expression is used to differentiate between those who gamble strictly for the money and those who play games of chance purely for the “sport” of it, usually on an infrequent basis. But the question begs asking, Can this be done without violating the Scriptural principles set forth above?
In the opinion of this writer, the answer to whether or not gambling is sin is best answered by an analogy. It is not wrong in itself for a three-year-old child to hold a match in its hand, but what adult would ever suggest or encourage that a three-year-old hold such a thing? In a similar way, it is not wrong in itself that a person pulls a lever on a slot machine. But what Christian unreservedly would advise people to do it, knowing how easily the sin of greed may take hold of the heart? That kind of burning has spiritual and eternal consequences. Didn’t Jesus say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25)?
This writer continues to stand on the Scriptures and feels that “recreational gambling” is improper, just as the gambling condemned by the church in ages past.