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Is it wrong for me to play the lottery every now and then? Is gambling once in a while sin?


Sometimes I hesitate, just for a second, to answer questions like this. Conservative Christians will write and say that I missed the opportunity to clearly condemn something they feel is a sin. Liberal Christians will write and tell me that I’m judgmental and legalistic. Those who like to gamble will inform me of how it does not affect their Christianity and those who have never gambled will proclaim that there is no way a Christian can participate in gambling in any form.

So with that disclaimer I will wade right into the quicksand and see how long I can stay afloat.

Before we get to gambling in general let me make a comment about the lottery. First of all, you have a greater chance of getting hit by a meteor than you do winning the lottery. Despite that, a large percentage of Americans today fully believe that someday they will win a large sum of money from a lottery. As well, it is a documented fact that the “big winners” of the lottery end up being a sad and broken bunch.

The lottery is a voluntary tax, primarily on those who can’t afford it.

I know that comment is going to get me a lot of fire from a lot of people but it doesn’t change the truth of it. Very little of the money goes to all of the so-called good reasons that was pitched by the lottery proponents when it was first considered. The government allows it because it is literally a voluntary tax taking money out of people’s pockets and a good percentage of it finding its way into the government coffers.

Regardless of whether or not gambling is a sin, playing the lottery is just dumb dumb dumb. It is a waste of money that could be going to help the poor, give to house orphans, care for widows or spread the gospel. If every Christian in America who wasted their money on the lottery were to give it to a missionary instead, we would not have to have our missionaries making the church circuit once a year to beg for enough money to feed their family.

Pause… sorry, I heard a clicking noise and wanted to see if it was the sound of the counter on my e-mail list going down.

As for gambling, first of all there is no New Testament prohibition SPECIFICALLY against gambling. If there was, the question wouldn’t be a question.

I believe it boils down to defining what gambling is because if you don’t, what is considered entertainment to one person would be gambling to another. For example, if a person says “hey, I’ll bet you a dollar I can make this putt”, would that be considered gambling? Is that the same as the person who sits at a horse track all day or at an online casino running up credit cards and spending the family budget?

Compare these two examples: one set of guys decides to go play a round of golf and each spend $50 for a few hours of recreation. Another set of guys decide to set up a card table and play poker for a couple of hours with the constraint that each player can only spend $20. Is spending $50 to play golf okay when some would say that that is a luxurious waste of money that could have went for the Lord’s work? Is playing a game of cards where you can only bet $20 a sin because that form of entertainment is called “gambling”? I think it’s hard to draw a line and say that I can spend $30 to go see a movie, $75 to play golf, drop $60 on a dinner and spend a $125 to go to a concert, then turn right around and proclaim that the fellows enjoying a $10 poker game at his buddy’s house is a gambling-sinner-going-straight-to-hell.

My point is this, Christians are too eager to jump up and condemn things without seriously thinking them through. I’m not talking about things that the Bible clearly says is wrong. I’m talking about things that over the years different Christian segments have crystallized as sin for their own reasons such as dancing, drinking, smoking and gambling. Charles Spurgeon condemned going to the theater while he smoked cigars.

None of those things are specifically condemned in Scripture which brings me to my real answer. The real answer is that God is concerned about our hearts, motives and attitude. I am convinced that this is why the Lord did not give us an ABC 123 checklist of do’s and don’ts for most specific behavior. I think this is confirmed in the fact that God DID give us very specific instruction when it comes to the internals: honesty, purity, integrity, holiness, love etc.

When it comes to these external issues the Lord has equipped us and empowered us by the Holy Spirit to be able to rightly discern that it would be wrong to spend your hard-earned money in the pursuit of a quick gain through gambling because your motive is to risk the blessing God gave you to get MORE than HE gave you. I believe the same discernment and Holy Spirit would have us realize that saying “I bet you a buck I can make this putt” or getting together with your buddies and spending a few dollars on a card game does not fall into the category of sin.

The problem is Christians in general, because of poor spiritual discipline and a lack of biblical depth, have lost their ability to discern such things.

Now, having said all that my personal opinion is that it is always safer to stay on the side of caution if there is any question. If you don’t go to casinos and gamble, you won’t find yourself gambling in a way that is sinful. If you don’t cultivate a lifestyle of gambling then you will not succumb to its darker temptations.

Further, like the valid reasons against dancing, drinking and smoking, gambling comes with a worldly label and appearance. Being part of the gambling market supports a well-known list of vices and questionable enterprises. Gambling can call into question your witness for the Lord and can easily cause another Christian to stumble.

In the end, gambling is a matter of conscience. Like drinking, (drunkenness), eating (gluttony), entertainment (immorality) etc., gambling taken too far or indulged in too much, is no doubt sinful. However, the fact remains that Biblically there is no specific verse that clearly and without question prohibits gambling in all forms, whether light personal recreation or hard-core addiction. Like all behavior considerations, there are principles that govern our behavior such as being good stewards of our money (1Corinthians 4:2), being good witnesses for the Lord, being frugal and laying up our treasures in heaven rather than on Earth (Matt 6:20); the pursuit of money not earned through Godly work can be a snare (1 Timothy 6:9), gambling can easily lead to greed and idolatry (1 Timothy 6:10); gambling can waste money that could help others, gambling can be addictive; gambling can lead and often does lead to other sin.

There’s plenty of Biblical principle to warrant extreme caution and concern about gambling.

It’s gambling a sin? A lot of the times, without a doubt. All of the time? You cannot declare that Biblically. Do I think there is a more spiritual and Godly use of the funds that a regular gambler spends on gambling? Of course I do.

I make no claims on being the final authority for questions like this. I would love for you readers to weigh in on this and let me and the other readers know your thoughts and counsel. Visit the message boards and tell us what you think. Try to approach it from a biblical perspective as much as possible. Go here…