Is it right for Christians to gamble?
Since there are no specific verses in the Bible that either sanction or prohibit gambling, we need to use spiritual common sense and apply fundamental principles laid out in the word of God to answer this question. Before we do, perhaps we should explore first of all what we mean by gambling.
John, in the Bible, describes a scene to us in which gambling took place. At the cross the soldiers cast lots for the coat without seam belonging to the Lord Jesus, John 19. 23, 24. More than likely, the soldiers used this activity to entertain themselves as a distraction from the horrific events of that day. Unwittingly, the four soldiers attending the cross directly fulfilled scripture, as they all received an item of the Lord’s clothing, parting His garments among them, but also gambled over the costlier woven item of clothing belonging to the Lord by casting lots, Ps. 22. 18. There would be one winner and three losers in their little game that day. In this scene, we have illustrated some of the key features of gambling: risking a loss in the hope of gain; and using this as a basis for entertainment. Usually, the chance of gain is against the odds compared to losing. Gambling may also involve a skill, such as playing cards, or at least give the appearance that the player has some control over the situation.
A simple guiding principle that will settle most questions relating to gambling is that of stewardship. All that we have, materially and spiritually, is given to us by God. Paul reminds us, ‘And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ 1 Cor. 4. 7. That means that the money we earn and the things we possess all really belong to God. We are entrusted with them by God to use wisely and for His honour. Imagine you were given the responsibility to manage a budget in your employment. How do you think your boss would react if he discovered you had gambled away money that had been entrusted to your care?
Perhaps a deeper question relates to the reasons behind why many people gamble and what happens when a habit gets out of control and becomes an addiction. There are, perhaps, two main reasons behind gambling. One is the desire for money or material gain, and the other is for the thrill-seeking and escapism that arising from risk-taking.
With respect to the first reason, Paul is very clear in his instructions to Timothy in warning us of the dangers of the love of money with respect to our spiritual well-being, ‘But they that will [or desire to] be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’,1 Tim. 6. 9, 10. Please bear in mind that, apart from gambling, there are other ‘legitimate’ activities that could be motivated by the same desires. These might include taking undue risks in business or overcommitting financially by taking on loans that we might struggle to pay off because we want more.
The second reason of thrill-seeking is, perhaps, even more dangerous, as it can lead to someone getting hooked on gambling. Gambling addiction is a recognized form of compulsive behaviour that has risen significantly in recent years, especially among young men. The Gambling Commission, for example, has estimated that at least 2% of young men1 in the UK have a gambling problem.2 Such an addiction can lead to debt, loss of employment, deterioration in mental wellbeing, and even family breakdown.
How do we know if we really have a problem with gambling? Paul offers some guidance concerning what we allow in our lives as Christians, ‘All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [or helpful]: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any’, 1 Cor. 6. 12. Ask yourself the question: does gambling have a power over you or is it causing harm to your life? As believers, the good news is that God, through the Holy Spirit, has provided us with power and inner motivation to overcome addictive sinful habits. The Lord Jesus said, ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’, John 8. 36.
Is gambling a problem in your life? Here are some places where you may be able to get further help: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/gambling-addiction/ or http://ccfwebsite.com/.
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