Question: Is Gambling a Sin?
What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
Surprisingly, the Bible contains no specific command to avoid gambling. However, the Bible does contain timeless principles for living a life pleasing to God and is filled with wisdom to deal with every situation, including gambling.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we read about people casting lots when a decision had to be made. In most instances, this was simply a way of determining something impartially:
Casting lots was common among many ancient cultures. Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus' garments at his crucifixion:
"Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did. (John 19:24, NIV)
Does the Bible Mention Gambling?
Although the words "gambling" and "gamble" do not appear in the Bible, we cannot assume that an activity is not a sin simply because it is not mentioned. Looking at pornography on the Internet and using illegal drugs are not mentioned either, but both violate God's laws.
While casinos and lotteries promise thrills and excitement, obviously people gamble to try to win money. Scripture gives very specific instructions about what our attitude should be toward money:
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NIV)
"No servant can serve two masters. [Jesus said.] Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Luke 16:13, NIV)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)
Gambling is a way to bypass work, but the Bible counsels us to persevere and work hard:
Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4, NIV)
One of the key principles in the Bible is that people should be wise stewards of everything God gives them, including their time, talent and treasure. Gamblers may believe they earn their money with their own labor and may spend it as they please, yet God gives people the talent and health to carry out their jobs, and their very life is a gift from him as well. Wise stewardship of extra money calls believers to invest it in the Lord’s work or to save it for an emergency, rather than lose it in games in which the odds are stacked against the player.
Gamblers covet more money, but they may also covet the things money can buy, such as cars, boats, houses, expensive jewelry and clothing. The Bible forbids a covetous attitude in the Tenth Commandment:
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17, NIV)
Gambling also has the potential to turn into an addiction, like drugs or alcohol. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 2 million U.S. adults are pathological gamblers and another 4 to 6 million are problem gamblers. This addiction can destroy the stability of the family, lead to job loss, and cause a person to lose control of their life:
…for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:19)
Some argue that gambling is nothing more than entertainment, no more immoral than going to a movie or concert. People who attend movies or concerts expect only entertainment in return, however, not money. They are not tempted to keep spending until they "break even."
Finally, gambling provides a sense of false hope. Participants place their hope in winning, often against astronomical odds, instead of placing their hope in God. Throughout the Bible, we are constantly reminded that our hope is in God alone, not money, power, or position:
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5, NIV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NIV)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)
Some Christians believe that church raffles, bingos and the like to raise funds for Christian education and ministries are harmless fun, a form of donation involving a game. Their logic is that, as with alcohol, an adult should act responsibly. In those circumstances, it seems unlikely someone would lose a large amount of money.
God's Word is No Gamble
Every leisure activity is not a sin, but all sin is not clearly listed in the Bible. Added to that, God doesn't just want us not to sin, but he gives us an even higher goal. The Bible encourages us to consider our activities in this way:
"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12, NIV)
This verse appears again in 1 Corinthians 10:23, with the addition of this idea: "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive." When an activity is not distinctly described as sin in the Bible, we can ask ourselves these questions: "Is this activity beneficial for me or will it become my master? Will participation in this activity be constructive or destructive to my Christian life and witness?"
The Bible does not explicitly say, "Thou shalt not play blackjack." Yet by gaining a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures we have a trustworthy guide for determining what pleases and displeases God.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and guest contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.