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Q: Is all gambling sinful?
A: Knowing there is a little difference of opinion among pastors on this subject (even in our own circles), it might be deemed “chancy” to venture an answer to this question. It is, however, a question that needs to be addressed, not just for the sake of our churches in the Las Vegas area, but also due to the fact that a large number of our states have implemented the lottery, horse-racing, pari-mutuel betting, etc. One wonders how far away we are at this point in time from seeing our federal legislators pass a national lottery.
“Gambling” is defined as “the playing of games of chance for stakes.” Scripture does not mention the word as such. But this doesn’t necessarily make it “OK” for the Christian, nor does the fact that the government has given its sanction to it in controlled quarters. (After all, the government has also gone on record as allowing for the life of a newly-formed baby in the womb to be snuffed out, even though God has plainly stated “You shall not murder.”)
The ultimate question that needs to be addressed by the Christian who has an inclination to gamble is this: “Can I play games for chance for money and yet keep my heart and motives free from the sins so often associated with ‘gambling?’ ” Our entire lives are to be lived to the glory and praise of God in forgiving our sins and giving us eternal inheritance that no perishable money can buy (II Cor. 5:15 and I Peter 1:18, 19). Whatever conflicts with that most noble purpose is obviously “sin,” no matter how appealing it might be to have our consciences think otherwise.
Besides the fact that the sin of stealing (albeit, in an indirect way), the sin of poor stewardship, and the sin of violating the Scriptural work-ethic are frequently part-and-parcel to “gambling,” the greatest danger ultimately is the sin of GREED. So often Scripture warns against “the love of money,” not just because it involves “coveting” (i.e., the Ninth and Tenth Commandments), but primarily because it prohibits “fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things” (i.e., the First Commandment). No wonder Jesus succinctly said, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). If Jesus had to warn against the ever-present danger of materialism with respect to two brothers fighting over an inheritance, don’t you think his words ring true for those seated around the poker table, or for those bingoing, or for those “sweeping the stakes,” or for those purchasing the latest lottery ticket at the drugstore? “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
There, of course, are a number of Christians who like to speak of “recreational gambling.” Apparently this means the gambling is not taken seriously for the money purposes but only for “enjoyment.” But at what price to the individual’s faith might this “enjoyment” be? Frankly, when one puts himself in a situation where the likelihood of succumbing to the sin of greed is very high, it is just like the little boy playing with fire. And if that fire is not stopped, a much more lasting fire will be the end result, as Jesus warns: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”