|Question or Topic||Scripture|
|Is gambling forbidden in scripture?||I Corinthians 6:12|
This issue is not one that is easy to resolve with a "thus saith the Lord". There are scriptural approaches and we will do our best to provide you with some direction on the subject. I will relate my comments only to minor activities such as lotteries and raffles. I am confident that no reasonable brother would attempt to justify an addiction to the evils associated with high stakes gambling.
One of the factors involved in this discussion is motivation. Why do we gamble? What is our real objective? It may be that the desire to be a winner in "powerball" is rooted in covetousness. The master has seen fit to address this common weakness of the flesh in these words: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
This instruction was not unique. It was included in the ten commandments: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's" (Exodus 20:17).
We are also instructed by the Apostle Paul:
Covetous is a word that means: "desiring more, eager for gain". It is a word that can easily be applied to gambling, which incidentally means to "risk loss in order to gain an advantage". The same message is presented again in Colossians 3:
The word "covetousness" in this verse relates to avarice and greediness. "Concupiscence" means to desire, to long for or lust after. These are both characteristics which we are told to mortify – to destroy in our flesh. If our gambling is motivated by covetousness, or evil concupiscence, then it is clearly forbidden. The answer for each of us is in a honest self examination of our own heart.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the purchase of lottery tickets and or certain forms of gambling are harmless. Some are convinced that these matters should be treated as one of those Romans 14 issues. We are told in that chapter to "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 12:5). "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (v. 22).
For those who choose gambling as one of their own forms of liberty, the Apostle Paul has this recommendation: "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (I Corinthians 6:12).
In the 10th chapter he repeats this advice with an addition: We read from the NIV: "Everything is permissible– but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible– but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (I Corinthians 10:23, NIV).
We do have certain freedoms in Christ. All of these liberties must be exercised with caution. Our personal freedom may adversely affect our brother, concerning which we read: "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Romans 14:21). "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak" (I Corinthians 8:9).
In another example, Peter tells us concerning our freedoms that we should have our "conversation honest among the Gentiles ... As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God" (I Peter 2:12,16).
There are some other factors that should be considered in this discussion. When we gamble, (with a portion of the blessing that God has given to us), we may be placing our trust in the wrong place. Are we hoping for great gain from the devices of the princes of this land? We are told: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:3-4).
We know where we ought to place our trust: "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). If we desire to increase our goods, then we should "Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10).
The master adds this instruction:
Our attitude ought to be consistent with that of our master, who in his greatest need could say, "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). We would be stretching the point, if we were to attempt to apply his example to our greed. Should we say to the Lord, "Please let me win the lottery, nevertheless, thy will be done"? James reminds us that "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).
We may not have considered that the will of the Lord is a key factor in this discussion. In the casting of lots, (which does have a scriptural basis), we are told that the successor to Judas was chosen in this manner: "And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen ... And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:24,26).
For further evidence of this principle, we read in Proverbs 16:33 – "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD" ("every decision is from the LORD", NIV).
It seems incredible indeed, that we can almost convince ourselves that God will bend his will, to be consistent with ours, when we have placed our hopes for the fulfillment of our dreams on the mammon of unrighteousness.
It is difficult for us to make the positive conclusion that forms of gambling such as the lottery are forbidden. Each of us must look into our own hearts to determine what our own motivation and practice will be. At the same time we are to be careful not to judge the heart of another man's servant – "to his own master he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4).
We conclude with this suggestion: "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Romans 14:19).