According to a 2016 Gallup poll, about half of Americans have played the state lottery. The lure of winning riches is enough to urge thousands of people to buy lottery tickets.
Those who live in poverty are also tempted to spend the small amount they have to make a little extra from scratch-off lottery tickets. The government supports lotteries because they serve as a form of tax.
Despite the popularity of the lottery, there is a solid argument why Christians should not participate in it. Not only is the lottery a form of gambling, but it also exploits the poor. The Bible condemns such treatment of the poor.
As followers of Christ, we should fight against the exploitation of the poor and seek to help those who are caught in poverty. Instead of spending money playing the lottery, we should use our resources to help those in need.
The Lottery and the Poor
According to an article by The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “The majority of lottery tickets are purchased in low-income neighborhoods.” Although all forms of gambling exploit the poor, the lottery is probably the most aggressive in preying on those who live in poverty.
People who live in low-income situations are likely to buy lottery tickets to earn extra money, even if it is just a few dollars.
While some are enticed by the offer of millions of dollars, most people are buying simple lottery tickets in the hopes of putting extra cash in their pockets. These are the individuals you see at gas stations and grocery stores attempting to cash in their tickets.
The lottery is a prime example of a regressive tax, which draws from low-income earners instead of high-income earners. Because it is a form of tax, the state lottery is government-supported and encouraged.
Americans are told that this money is used to help fund education for low-income persons. However, state lotteries “stealthily reallocate income from the relatively poor to the relatively rich” (Wisman, Jon D. “State Lotteries: Using State Lotteries to Fleece the Poor,” Journal of Economic Issues).
Even though the lottery might fund a small percentage of education, this does not justify the mistreatment of low-income earners.
In addition to being a regressive tax, the lottery also prevents low-income earners from improving their financial situation.
A Business Insider article notes that “researchers conclude that lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals' desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations.”
Instead of helping those who are struggling, lottery tickets encourage the vicious cycle of poverty.
What Does the Bible Say about Exploiting the Poor?
Scripture repeatedly denounces the exploitation of the poor. Those who oppress the poor demonstrate a lack of compassion for others and contempt for God (Proverbs 14:31).
The Lord instructed the Israelites in the Old Testament to show kindness to the poor and not to exploit them (Deuteronomy 15:7; 24:14).
As Proverbs 22:22-23 says, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life.”
In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus equates anything we do for the poor, hungry, or imprisoned as done for Him (Matthew 25:34-35). When we serve those caught in poverty, we are serving Christ.
In addition to caring about the needs of the poor, He also came to save them. During Jesus’ day, many poor and outcast people were entering the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:16-24).
When Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, He secured the payment for the sins of all people (2 Corinthians 5:15). The poor are also offered the gift of salvation if they place their faith in Jesus.
A Christian’s Response
Loving others means not exploiting them. Thus, Christians should not participate in the lottery, even if they think scratch-off tickets are “harmless fun.” As I showed earlier in the article, the lottery is a regressive tax and targets those in poverty.
There is nothing harmless about the lottery since it preys on the poor. Church leaders need to educate their congregations about the consequences of gambling and participating in the lottery.
Although it is easy to focus on avoiding the lottery, believers should not stop there. To love the person in need means to help them and share with them the life-giving news of the gospel (John 6:26-29; James 2:15-16).
Churches can share what they have with those in need by running clothing and food drives for the poor. They can also team up with local outreach ministries that assist the poor in practical ways, such as through food, financial, and job assistance.
Another way to show love toward those who are exploited by the lottery is to provide educational and job opportunities. Offering support to individuals through job training and education can help them obtain long-term stability and become self-supporting.
Christians are not trying to make people dependent but to help individuals who are suffering and struggling. Teaming up with local, gospel-centered ministries that provide training to youth and adults is a loving way to fight against the cycle of poverty that the lottery supports.
Finally, the most important thing for believers to remember is that they are not tasked with the job of making programs. Our focus should be on people. Individuals who are buying lottery tickets at your local gas station or grocery store are living human beings who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
We should not view them as “charity cases.” They are people with value, made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Churches can best help those who are exploited by gambling by coming alongside them in life and showing them the love of Christ.
We want to assist them in affording their rent and having food and job security. However, we also want to see them become disciples of Christ, possessors of true riches in Him (2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 1:3).
Why Does This Matter?
Believers may not understand the harmful consequences of the lottery and conclude that scratch-off lottery tickets are benign forms of fun. However, followers of Christ cannot support the lottery because it exploits the poor.
We should use our resources to help those who are caught in the cycle of poverty and protect them against further harm from lotteries.
By working with other believers, we can equip individuals with skills and resources to help them fight against poverty. Also, churches can come alongside them to share the gospel and encourage them to become disciples.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Michael Burrell
Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.
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