Beware the seductive fantasy of gambling

Updated Oct 18, 2007
Beware the seductive fantasy of gambling
The subject of gambling rarely is addressed within the church, but it must be in view of the popularity and widespread prominence of state lotteries and other increasingly popular forms of gambling.

What is gambling?

  • It originated from the Old English word gammon - the basic concept of a game. Gambling is based on sheer chance and randomness - without skill or personal involvement. It's not like normal competition, in which you strive for a prize by producing something better, by accomplishing something sooner, or by doing something more efficiently.
  • In the hope of winning something of greater value, a person risks something of value to the forces of chance beyond his or her control or rational expectation.
  • It is accompanied by the notion that the longer you engage in it, the better your odds of succeeding. But sheer random chance never changes its odds, because there are no elements you can control to increase your likelihood of winning.

Recent trends of gambling:

  • Annually, $1 trillion are spent on legal and illegal gambling. 
  • More than 10 million Americans are compulsive gamblers - more than the number of alcoholics.
  • Gambling is growing rapidly in popularity and acceptability, and has become convenient - at grocery stores and gas stations, off-track betting parlors, and on the Internet.  

The church's position on gambling:

  • The church has spoken out very little and done virtually nothing in opposition to the presence and influence of gambling. Government, especially on the state level, is an advocate for gambling, and the church needs to take a stand, expose the evils of gambling, and declare how it's really at odds with the principles of Scripture.

Why gambling is wrong:

  • Not justified by the casting of lots. In biblical times lots functioned much like dice. They were made of sheep's knuckle bones, and the roll of those bones indicated a certain meaning. When the people had to make an important decision and had difficulty determining God's will, He sovereignly intervened and caused the lots to fall in such a way as to tell His followers what to do. At no time did anyone ever put something of value at risk.
  • Denies the reality of God's sovereignty. Chance, the major promise of gambling's outworking, is the fabric of a human imagination that wants to deny the existence of a sovereign God. The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all (Ps. 103:19).
  • Builds on irresponsible stewardship. The worst possible stewardship is for someone to throw God's resources away at the altar of a god called chance or luck. It's idolatry of the worst sort. Nothing we have really belongs to us; it belongs to God, and we should use all of it to His glory (Matt. 6:19-20).
  • Erodes the biblical work ethic. We are to earn our bread by the sweat of our brows (Gen. 3:19) not from games of chance. The addictive wagering process saps the good that a decent salary can afford.
  • Driven by the sin of covetousness. Gambling - and its accompanying greediness - violates the 10th commandment (Ex. 20:17). It assumes that God has not given us what we ought to have and that there is somehow more wealth that will finally make us happy.
  • Builds on the exploitation of others. It exploits people who can least afford to be victims and violates the eighth commandment, You shall not steal (Ex. 20:15). For everyone who wins something at gambling, there are millions of losers - people who have been duped by the seductive marketing appeal of gambling and prompted to throw away large sums of money.

From Whose Money Is It, Anyway? by John MacArthur. Copyright (c) 2000 by Word Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., is a popular author and conference speaker and leads the daily national radio program, Grace to You. He has written more than six dozen books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The MacArthur Topical Bible, and What the Bible Says About Parenting. John and his wife, Patricia, have four grown children and 10 grandchildren.



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