Dr. Henry B. Waiters: Is gambling a sin?
What is gambling? Webster says: playing a game for money or property; to bet on an uncertain outcome; to stake something on a contingency. Simply stated, it is to wager or parlay money or property into something of much greater value.
Dr. J.B. Buffington says, “Gambling is not acting on faith, nor is it simply taking a risk. Gambling is taking an artificial risk for hope of excessive gain far beyond what the investment of time, money or skill would justify; a gamble is a transaction whereby your gain is someone else’s loss, or vice versa. In gambling, the willingness to take a risk is twisted by the desire to get something for little or nothing. Gambling is parasitic, producing no personal growth.”
Too often, gamblers experience the most extreme consequences; gambling corrupts people in many ways. The something-for-nothing crave which gambling stimulates tends to undermining character. The hope of winning a fortune may cause some to steal for a gambling stake. Professional gamblers bribe policemen, public officials, athletes and referees. Irresponsibility, loss of employment, home, family and often life, all seem to go hand in hand with gambling. It appeals to the weakness of a person’s character, develops poor traits — recklessness, callousness, covetousness — and stunts spiritual growth. Many become addicted and cannot stop buying tickets or wagering, and begin a headlong plunge into personal catastrophe.
As destructive as gambling is, God has not named it, nor given one command, or indicated His opposition to gambling per se. The words gamble, gambler, gambled, gambling or wager are not found in the Bible. God sees all unrighteousness as sin — not big or little — although some sins are more far-reaching than others. For 50 of my almost 88 years, I have attempted to find a plausible explanation for the omission, but every attempt has failed.
Of the multitude who believe God is opposed to gambling, many use Scriptures to justify their belief, such as:
“He that by usury and unjust gain increases his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.” Prov. 28:8
“A faithful man shall abound with blessings but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” Prov. 28:20
“But they that will 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.” I Tim. 6:9-10
Proverbs 28:8 and 20 refer to the Levitical law that forbade lending on interest (usury) to poor Israelites (Lev. 25:35-37). The idea was that to a poor fellow Israelite one should give the needed money outright. The law required that if a man did lend and take a pledge for collateral, he might not enter his debtor’s house to remove the collateral by force.
Isaiah 10:1-2 refers to the unrighteous judges and government officials who abused their power by oppressing their people and imposing unjust sentences and decrees for their own personal gain, who would find their iniquities fittingly punished before God’s bar of justice.
In I Tim. 6:3-10 Paul is saying the desire for riches was the motive behind much false teaching. Through the ages, church doctrines have been corrupted to produce income for church coffers. “A root of all kinds of evil” is more accurate. He also shows the folly of setting one’s hopes and desires on this world, which is temporary. One should be content with food and raiment. He develops the thought of the folly of concentrating on the accumulation of wealth as an end in itself.
Hendriksen says, “The love of money is idolatry and leads away from the true hope of the Christian.” Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines covetousness: (Heb. to desire, dishonest gain; Gr. the wish to have more), an inordinate desire for what one has not, which has its basis in discontentment with what one has. It has an element of lawlessness, and is sinful because contrary to the command “Be content with such things as ye have” (Heb. 13:5), it leads to “trust in uncertain riches,” to love of the world, to forgetfulness of God, and is idolatry (Col. 3:5). It ranks with the worst sins (Mark 7:22, Rom. 1:29). Our Lord especially warns against it (Luke 12:15) as does Paul (Eph. 5:3).
Idolatry is the worship of anyone or anything other than the One True God. God should always be one’s ultimate concern. When someone or something else becomes one’s ultimate concern, that is idolatry. The term is used to designate covetousness which takes mammon (material wealth having debasing influences) for its god (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13, Eph. 5:5, Col. 3:5).
Appetite or gluttony is also included under idolatry (Phil. 3:19, Rom. 16:18, II Tim. 3:4).
Again, the words gamble, gambler, gambling, gambled or wager are not in the Bible. The biblical description and prohibition of idolatry and covetousness clearly describes the engagements, pursuits and hopes for gain by those who gamble. Many consider gambling to be idolatry; it is the worship of money. Because of this similarity, many denominations agree that gambling is sinful, while others disagree and use gambling devices as fundraisers. The states determine what is legalized gambling.
Many erroneously believe that these eight passages found in the Old and New Testaments endorse gambling. Actually, casting lots — Num. 26:55, Josh. 18:6, Neh. 11:1, Esther 9:24, Prov. 16:33, Luke 1:9, John 19:24, Acts 1:26 — was either commanded by God or used for evil purposes in the hands of corrupt men. It was never used for financial gain or for gambling. The soldiers cast lots for our Lord’s garment. None stood to lose anything, for they did not bet or wager.
Some believe buying insurance is a gamble. Quite the opposite. When you gamble you try to exploit chance; you hope that you will be the only lucky one. When you buy insurance, you are trying to eliminate the problems caused by the unpredictable; you share the burden of those who are unfortunate. When you gamble, you personally are choosing to take an unnecessary risk. When you buy insurance, you do so realizing that life is full of necessary risks and that by purchasing a policy you can spread the burden of the risk over large company of people.
The stock market, too, is an investment hoping for a reasonable gain. In our society it is necessary to have a stock exchange to buy and sell securities. The investor tries to assess the economic prospects of various investments and after investigation, makes his decision and buys the stock. The money he has invested goes to industry in order to produce more goods or services for the betterment of society.
For sure, there are speculative stocks with a high risk attached to them, and if you speculate on them with the sole purpose of making a “killing” for yourself, it would certainly be gambling.
Dr. Buffington laments, “Perhaps the greatest destruction wreaked by gambling is on the family unit. From the perpetually poor slum dwellers who gamble the milk money on the daily number at 999-1 odds, to the casino hoppers in Las Vegas who take their own lives at a rate three times the national average, the story is a grim one. Gambling hurts not only those directly involved but innocent persons as well. All the members of a community stand to suffer from gambling. Especially vulnerable are members of the gambler’s family. Gambling creates financial problems and tensions in the home. As one member of Gamblers Anonymous stated, ‘It is difficult to say whether the gambler or his wife is the more physically, mentally and emotionally damaged by the ravages of a gambling binge.’ Innocent persons, sometimes children, suffer maiming and death when criminal elements collide in gambling disputes.”
In part 3 of Christian Modesty, I said “Sometimes God provides specific Bible commands and then clearly states how they are to be applied. Sometimes He gives principles and expects His people to make prayer full, Spirit-led and Word-informed applications for themselves.” Regarding gambling, God does the latter. If we believe gambling is a sin, we do so based on our perception of the principles given, for God’s Word does not specifically name gambling or wagering.
Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369.