What Is the Bible’s View?
How About a Game of Cards?
THERE are hundreds of card games. These range from solitaire, involving just one person, to poker, with up to ten players. Millions of people often spend hours playing card games of skill or chance. They are eager to participate when someone asks, “How about a game of cards?”
Yet, others wonder, Is it proper to play cards? Are there Bible principles to consider in deciding whether to do so?
An individual may be particularly concerned about the origin of playing cards. Likely, their use began in Hindustan about the year 800 of our Common Era. Playing cards of today are thin, rectangular pieces of cardboard bearing certain numbers and figures. Fifty-two cards make up the most commonly used pack or deck, which is divided into four suits of thirteen cards. Three in each suit depict either a king, queen or jack (knave), representations probably dating from the Middle Ages.
Is it objectionable to play cards because they bear pictures of a king or queen? No, because kings and queens are mentioned in the Bible, and humans holding such positions are shown respect by godly individuals. But, of course, it would be out of harmony with the Scriptures to make any picture an object of worship. The apostle John wrote to fellow Christians: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) However, it is not customary for people to give reverence to the drawings found on common playing cards. But, of course, any individual with a Biblically trained conscience would not use cards that bore immoral pictures. (Matt. 5:27, 28) Ordinarily, though, cards of that type are not used by card players.
Other persons may conclude that all card playing is wrong because it can produce rivalries. The apostle Paul wrote: “If we are living by spirit, let us go on walking orderly also by spirit. Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:25, 26) Individuals who yield to the influence of God’s holy spirit or active force work to avoid a competitive spirit, one prompted by egotism and that causes a person to challenge others so as to prove he is better than they are. But not all persons who play cards have such an attitude of competition.
Naturally, if a highly competitive spirit develops in your heart when playing any game, you ought to strive to combat that feeling. Perhaps you will even decide that your emotional nature is such that it would be better not to play ball, cards, or some other game. But, of course, that does not mean that all others have a very competitive attitude when they play such games. They may play for pleasure and with a clear conscience before God and man.
Some card players trust in luck, making appeals to “Lady Luck.” Is this proper? Not according to the Scriptures. God warned his people of old: “You men are those leaving Jehovah, those forgetting my holy mountain, those setting in order a table for the god of Good Luck and those filling up mixed wine for the god of Destiny. And I will destine you men to the sword.” (Isa. 65:11, 12) Those circumstances involved false worship, but the impropriety of trusting in luck cannot be ignored by anyone desiring divine approval. Nevertheless, not all card players trust in luck.
Certain individuals may be concerned about the matter of time. If card playing is more than an occasional activity, it can become so time-consuming that more important matters are neglected. However, this can also happen if too much time is spent playing ball or attending concerts. Hence, persons devoted to God wisely refrain from pushing aside Bible study and spiritual things for any of these activities. Rather, they ‘buy out the opportune time because the days are wicked.’ (Eph. 5:15, 16) Obviously, though, if a family plays card games occasionally and this activity does not dominate their life, they are not necessarily doing something spiritually improper.
That does not mean, however, that all card playing harmonizes with Scriptural principles. Participants in certain card games engage in gambling. They may risk money, hoping that they will win larger sums. Whether an individual wins or loses, gradually his self-control can be undermined. He may yearn to play often, not as a diversion, but to win. A lack of consideration for others easily develops in his heart. The winner does not care that fellow players may have worked hard for the money he gladly takes from them without working for it. Soon outright greed gets a grip on the gambler, and he may even resort to dishonesty in an effort to win.
Are these attitudes approved of in the Bible? Well, whereas the gambling card player may lose self-control, a servant of God should cultivate that quality. It is a fruit of Jehovah’s holy spirit, as is love, which “does not look for its own interests” selfishly. (Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Cor 13:4, 5) Nor is gambling with playing cards a Scripturally approved way to acquire things of value. The Bible recommends working with one’s hands in honest employment and the apostle Paul exhorted disorderly ones to work and thus “eat food they themselves earn.”—2 Thess. 3:8-12; Eph. 4:28.
What if greed develops as a result of playing cards? Or suppose the gambler becomes dishonest. Neither trait befits an individual who reveres Jehovah. “Greedy persons” are among the unrighteous who will not “inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Moreover, godly persons endeavor to conduct themselves “honestly in all things.”—Heb. 13:18.
Now, suppose you had no objection to certain card games, but knew that another person’s conscience would be troubled if you played cards when he was present. You might well decide to refrain from playing in that one’s presence. The apostle Paul, who showed regard for the consciences of others, prayed that fellow believers would act with discernment, so as to ‘make sure of the more important things and not be stumbling others.’—Phil. 1:9, 10; compare 1 Corinthians 8:13.
Surely, then, there are important factors to consider when someone asks, “How about a game of cards?” Youths, of course, should first discuss the matter with their parents, who may or may not want to have them participate. If you are an adult, however, it is good to realize that whether to take part personally is something for individual decision.