There is much debate about the negative effects of gambling, but one authority carries more weight than all human opinion. What does the Bible say about gambling?
While the Bible doesn’t mention the word gambling directly, it addresses the thinking that leads to gambling, as well as the common aftereffects caused by gambling. Consider the guidance provided by these scriptures:
Provide for your family
- The Bible says that we are to be good stewards of all we have (Luke 12:42), which means we should manage our resources to the best of our ability. Gambling is not “stewardship” or good management of money. Instead it puts a person’s money at great risk; statistically, the odds are against the gambler.
- Scripture also tells us that we are to use our resources to provide for our families, not risk losing those resources on the remote possibility of winning more through gambling. There is clearly a spiritual dimension to how we manage money.
The Bible warns, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Carefully weigh the implications of this powerful statement word by word! The Greek for “unbeliever” means, among other things, “specifically a heathen … an untrustworthy person” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries).
The difference between using money and loving money
- The Bible certainly recognizes the need for money. In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus told them to include this request: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). That means it is not only all right to ask God to provide for our needs, but we should ask our Father every day to provide for our needs. Obviously, it often requires money to fulfill those needs.
- But the desire for money is potentially addictive. This addiction angle is truly a huge reality. The Bible cautions, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Poor people, wealthy people and people of every financial status in between are susceptible to a gambling addiction! Many poor people play lotteries in pursuit of the fantasy that winning will enable them to escape poverty. Yet the statistical odds are so great that they will lose their money that a lottery is often called “a tax on the poor.” Most importantly, notice that the Scriptures warn that the wrong approach to money can cost a person his or her salvation.
The definition of covetousness and greed
- God says we should not covet or be greedy. They are sins (Exodus 20:17; Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:3). Since covetousness is not a word in common use today, let’s look into its meaning. Merriam-Webster’s11th Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “1: marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions” and “2: having a craving for possession.” Lest we also miss the meaning of greed, the same source defines it as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.”
- Another Bible verse uses “covetousness” when speaking of how we should live: “Let your conduct [behavior] be without covetousness” (Hebrews 13:5). And another verse reveals the consequences of greed: “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house” (Proverbs 15:27).
Reject the temptation to think that by gambling you can better things for you or your household; these scriptures expose that thought as a lie. If we think that way, we are deceiving ourselves.
Honest work vs. something for nothing
- The Bible directs us to work for our living, which is the opposite of obtaining money dishonestly or through putting earned resources at unnecessary risk. God’s way of life emphasizes giving instead of getting. “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands [and his mind at] what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).
Scripture also reveals the consequences of laziness: “The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor” (Proverbs 21:25). “Laziness” is a good way to describe the lure of gambling. It can pull anyone—not just the poor—into the fantasy of believing he or she can get something for nothing.
The power controlling your life
- God’s people are to serve Him, not money. Did you know that the Bible warns you could be faced with a conflict between the two? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). “Mammon” is another uncommon word. It means “material wealth or possessions especially as having a debasing influence” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary).
Even if gambling were beneficial, an honest person would have to admit that it is easy to come under its control. However, the truth is that gambling is not beneficial.When you cross the line between using money properly and letting the pursuit of it define how you live your life, material possessions have become your “god”—an idol! Notice again from this verse that one’s personal salvation is potentially at stake! This subject is not a minor issue.
- We are not to come under the power of addictions. And the statistics are undeniable: Many people become addicted to gambling. On addictions, the Bible says, “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19, New International Version). We must be subject to the power of God, not enslaved by the power of any substance, including an improper desire for money. When anything exercises controlling power over our lives, we are addicted to it.
- The apostle Paul, in answering questions from the church in Corinth, wrote, “‘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).
Even if gambling were beneficial, an honest person would have to admit that it is easy to come under its control. However, the truth is that gambling is not beneficial. Not to individuals, not to families, not to societies. Sadly, many governments ignore the downsides of gambling and increasingly use lotteries as a method of fund-raising. This only takes advantage of vulnerable people, instead of serving them.
For more information, see the following article about overcoming an addiction to gambling: “Gambling.”
Gambling as entertainment?
Some consider gambling to be their entertainment, saying it’s no different from spending money on any other form of amusement. Of course, as a general principle, godly entertainment never involves sinful behavior. Godly entertainment would involve spending only disposable income (money that you can afford to spend) on something within God’s law that you and/or your family enjoy. By that definition, gambling is not godly entertainment.
It is also commonly understood that gambling can be addictive. Gambling is a trap that destroys people, families and society. It is not an innocent or a wholesome way to have fun.
As we have seen, the Bible demonstrates that much harm can come from gambling—the worst of which being the loss of one’s salvation. Christ promises believers that “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things”—things such as food, clothing and shelter. Jesus then set the priorities between the pursuit of material things and the pursuit of spiritual values by adding, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-33).
Reading the article “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” is a good way to begin pursuing the right priorities.