The question of gambling is a
very interesting one and is one that can lead to debate within Christian circles. Within the pages of Scripture there are certain things that are clearly defined as sinful leaving no room for debate on the topic. For example, adultery. You don’t have to ask the question, it is wrong and always will be wrong.
However, everything in the Bible is not clearly black and white, there are some grey areas. These areas in Scripture need a little more clarification and can lead to differing opinions as to whether the action or behavior is right or wrong.
The question ‘is gambling sinful?’ falls into this area. Because there is no verse in the Bible that says ‘thou shall not gamble,’ we must use the principles of Scripture to determine if gambling is right or wrong or if gambling is sinful or not. Ultimately you have to make up your mind; but let me give you what I believe are some good thoughts and questions to consider.
The Most Important Question to Ask about Gambling
The most important question you should be asking about gambling is not ‘is gambling sinful?’ Neither is it ‘should you be gambling or not?’ The most important question to ask regarding gambling is ‘why do you want to gamble?’
This question alone gets to the heart of the matter which in turn exposes your motivation. Many times, when it comes to grey areas of Scripture, understanding why you want to do something can help you determine whether you should do it or not.
Let me explain why this is a biblical approach to this matter. Consider what Paul says:
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. – 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NLT)
If you take this Scripture on face value, Paul is saying you can choose to do anything you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you or beneficial for you. It doesn’t automatically mean it’s sinful, but maybe it’s not in your best interests to continue in that behavior.
For example, there is nothing wrong with watching sports. However, watching sports all day, every day, and neglecting your wife and kids in the process may not be in your best interest. Often things that are not beneficial can also eventually become sinful.
I believe gambling falls into that category. It is allowable…but is it beneficial? Whether you declare it sinful or not, it is probably an activity you may want to avoid. The problem is not directly with the activity, the problem is what the activity can produce in you. Here are four attitudes I want you to consider.
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Four Dangerous Attitudes Gambling Can Produce in You
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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 6:9-10
As I mentioned earlier, the most important question to ask about gambling is why you want to do it. For many gambling is a means to “get rich” and it potentially exposes a love of money or a greedy desire within you, neither of which are good for you.
If you see gambling as a means of getting quick money or a ticket to the good life, then you are in trouble—because your motivations are wrong. In this case, I would say run and don’t look back.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. – Matthew 6:24
I don’t know how many people view gambling as a form of idolatry, but it is. Idolatry is an intense admiration, love, or esteem for something or someone. It is very easy to see how money can fall into this category, and by nature gambling, because you see it as a means to get the money you want. I am not saying that all people who gamble will fall into idolatry, I am saying this is a potential pitfall into sin.
A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty. – Proverbs 28:19 (NLT)
One of the realities of gambling is that it has an addictive tendency. Once you start, you may not want to stop. It leads you to forever chase the fantasy of winning, even when you are losing. Now, just because it has an addictive tendency doesn’t automatically make gambling sinful. There are plenty of other activities that have addictive tendencies such as food, television, or quite honestly…almost anything.
The problem with gambling is that false narrative that you can win and even if you lose you are one score away from getting it all back. Chasing that fantasy has the potential to lead you to poverty and potential ruin.
4. The Lure of Easy Money
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. – Proverbs 13:11 (ESV)
Gambling is a quick way to obtain money without having to pay the price to get it. Unfortunately, what usually comes quickly, goes just as quickly. Many times, leaving the person worse off than before.
A friend of mine had a brother who won 1 million dollars and it was gone in less than a year. Chances are, the money you get from gambling will probably be gone before you know it.
The One Big Problem about Gambling You Can’t Overlook
If there is one big problem which would lead me to say gambling is sinful, it is the problem of misplaced trust. So, ask yourself—before you engage in gambling behavior—what are you putting your trust in? This is another question that points to the motivation of your heart.
Again, your ‘why’ matters a lot here. If you’re looking at this activity as your way out, your chance to move up, or your hope of any kind, then you have misplaced your trust. You have replaced trust in God with trust in something else.
In this case, you have placed your trust in whatever you are betting on.
When you view gambling from this point, it goes beyond the ‘dollar and a dream’ or ‘you have to be in it to win it.’ It boils down to: will you trust God as your source? Or, will you look to another?
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. – Psalm 20:7-8
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Is it Ever Acceptable for Christians to Gamble?
This is another question that falls into the grey area just like ‘is gambling sinful.’ Let me give you some scenarios that make this question challenging.
You go on a cruise and decide to go into the casino and put money in the slot machine. Or, you decide to play one of the other games there. Is that gambling? Is that acceptable? Is that sinful? How do you answer these types of questions?
I believe the best way to answer these types of questions is by going back to the original most important question, why do you want to do it? I would also remember what Paul said: it may be allowable but is it beneficial?
The One Exception Where Gambling Will Always Be Sinful
Regardless of how you feel about the subject, there is one incidence where engaging in this activity is always wrong, no questions asked. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians again, but add the next verse:
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
When your “freedom” or opinion on a matter can potentially hurt someone else, then consider that other person ahead of yourself. However you feel about gambling, if your participation in that activity will cause someone else to stumble, then it is sinful to do that.
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. – 1 Corinthians 8:13
When you consider the question ‘is gambling sinful,’ there are two important things to remember. The first is, your reason why matters a lot.
Second, your impact (or influence on others) in choosing what you will do also matters a lot.
Ultimately, the question that will drive your opinion on this is not just ‘is it sinful?’ but instead, ‘is it beneficial?’ I cannot recommend that you go out and gamble and I won’t call you the most sinful person if you do.
I would say be very careful because what may seem innocent at first has the potential to lead to dangerous sin in your life.