Questions From Readers
● Is gambling a violation of Bible principles? Is it wrong for a Christian to have secular employment in a gambling project, such as a legalized lottery or gambling house?—V. W., Haiti, West Indies.
Christians are to work for their income. “Work with your hands, just as we ordered you, so that you may be walking decently as regards people outside and not be needing anything.” “When we were with you, we used to give you this order: ‘If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.’ To such persons we give the order and exhortation in the Lord Jesus Christ that by working with quietness they should eat food they themselves earn.” “Make honest provision, not only in the sight of Jehovah, but also in the sight of men.” “Provide the right things in the sight of all men.” “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Thess. 4:11, 12; 2 Thess. 3:10, 12; 2 Cor. 8:21; Rom. 12:17; 1 Tim. 5:8, NW) Gambling is not rendering service for the money you win; it is getting something for nothing from someone who does not want you to have it. Moreover, gambling often becomes a fever with some and they lose so much that they are no longer able to provide for their own.
But what if the gambler can afford his losses, which do not interfere with his providing for his family or meeting other obligations? If he can afford to lose the money, is there not a better use for it than enriching professional gamblers and gangsters, racketeers and criminals? Even if the proceeds go to support the government, is not the motive of the one who gambles wrong? Is he not wanting to gain money without giving any service for it in return? He is not wanting to give to the government, but receive from it. The majority complain about government taxes; they are not wanting to give more. There is a better use for the Christian’s money than gambling. If he can afford to lose it, he can afford to give it. As long as he has spiritual brothers that are poor he can use his surplus money to meet an obligation: “In case some one of your brothers should become poor among you in one of your cities, in your land that Jehovah your God is giving you, you must not harden your heart or be closefisted toward your poor brother.” (Deut. 15:7, NW) Better to give to your brother than lose to gamblers. Also better to contribute to Jehovah’s work than to gamblers: “Honor Jehovah with thy substance.” (Prov. 3:9, AS) So a Christian would not want to gamble and win something for which he gave no honest service or goods, nor would he choose to gamble and lose money he could put to a Christian use.
Other Scriptural reasons forbid gambling. Jesus said: “By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces bad fruit; a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Matt. 7:16-20, NW) Gambling appeals to selfishness and weakens moral fiber; it tempts many into habits of cheating and crookedness. Its enterprises are largely run or controlled by gangsters and racketeers, and this hoodlum empire produces rotten crops of violence and murder. Christians do not wish to be parties to its sins or recipients of its plagues. “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Tim. 6:10, NW.
The operators of games of chance never lose in the long run; the players as a group never win. The mathematical odds are so figured that the operators win heavily. To win the players must count on luck and not skill, on hunches and not logic. As a result most gamblers are inclined to be superstitious, playing hunches and trusting to fortune and fate and chance. The ancients gambled, and they had their gods and goddesses to which they appealed for luck. When the Jews backslid they fell into the evil practices of the heathen nations and sacrificed to false gods and goddesses, some of which were the deities of the gamblers. On one such occasion Jehovah said to his delinquent people: “Ye that forsake Jehovah, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for Fortune, and that fill up mingled wine unto Destiny; I will destine you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter.” (Isa. 65:11, 12, AS) Or, as the Leeser translation says: “That set out a table for the god of Fortune, and that fill for Destiny the drink-offering.” Moffatt’s translation states: “Spreading tables to Good Luck, pouring libations to Fate.” The Jews got in trouble with Jehovah when they sacrificed to the gods and goddesses of gamblers.
Both Catholic and Protestant church organizations of Christendom conduct a variety of gambling activities. They attempt to justify it on a number of grounds. They say it is not harmful to morals. Many governments think so, making gambling illegal. In some localities where this is so church groups have flouted the law, becoming lawbreakers to pursue their gambling. Instead of giving high leadership in moral matters, many churches have low morals and encourage members to descend with them. Gambling’s weakening effects on the moral fiber of men are apparent to all not blinded by their own greed. It was in the interest of good moral standards that Jehovah’s law commanded: “You must not covet.” (Rom. 7:7; Ex. 20:17, NW) Gamblers covet money not their own, seeking it without earning it. To covet is not morally upbuilding, but is degrading.
Churches use the plea that the stakes are small and hence of no consequence to the players. Jesus said: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10, NW) If it is wrong to gamble, the amount is not the deciding factor. We must not violate principles. Satan uses small and seemingly trivial violations as a wedge to open the way for bigger sins. Some things, such as eating or drinking, become wrong only when indulged in to excess, to a degree beyond moderation. But that is not the case with gambling. Small losses accumulate and over a period of time become dollars that could be better used or freely given, instead of being extorted by using hope-for-gain as a pry. But worse than that, petty gambling can grow to a fever and lead to grievous consequences for the player.
Religious organizations have sought to justify gambling by pointing to Israel’s casting of lots. True, Israel cast lots, but not for sport or pleasure or material gain. There were no bets or wagers or stakes, no losses or winnings. It was not done to enrich the temple or the priests or for charity. The lots were used merely to show Jehovah’s decision or direction in a matter: “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole decision is of Jehovah.” (Prov. 16:33, Da) It was a means of ending disputes: “The lot puts an end to disputes, and decides between powerful rivals.” (Prov. 18:18, AT) It was not for gambling, and should not be wrested to appear so.
Many will acknowledge that gambling generally is wrong, but think that if it is run by a church to finance its work or to perform charity it is all right. Actually, it is soliciting on a bad basis. It appeals to wrong motives, enticing and luring the victim through his selfish hopes to gain. The giver does not want to give; he wants to gain, to get the money of other players rather than let it all go to the church. If the players would give without the prospect of winning, then all the money could be used for church work, and not part of it siphoned off to return to the gamblers. Gambling was rampant in pagan Rome and throughout its empire, but neither Jesus nor the apostles or other Christians authorized gambling as a means of revenue for the church.
The Bible shows how funds for charity are to be obtained: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28, NW) We are to give out of love, not lose by gambling. When Paul was gathering money for the relief of needy brothers he did not commend sad losers, but he did say: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7, NW) Jehovah is not interested in gambling losses, but in cheerfully offered gifts. In church gambling it is the winners that are cheerful, because the money came to them instead of going to the needy objects of charity. They are cheered by pocketing the winnings, not by giving through losses. It is because churchgoers refuse to give out of Christian love that the clergy stage gambling games to overcome unchristian selfishness and extract money from unwilling pockets. When charity is forced by the lure of winning something, it is not Christian, not how Jesus said it should be: “When you spread a dinner or evening meal, do not call your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors. Perhaps some time they might also invite you in return and it would become a repayment to you. But when you spread a feast, invite poor people, crippled, lame, blind; and you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous ones.” (Luke 14:12-14, NW) Christendom’s gamblers want more than repayment; they want a payment for nothing. They have no faith to look to a payment through resurrection. True Christians are not forced to lose to make them give.
Can a Christian be employed in a gambling enterprise that is legally recognized and allowed? He may think that he can do so if he refrains from gambling himself or allowing his spiritual brothers to gamble through his services. One may be able to conscientiously do this, while another would not be able to do so in good conscience. Each one will have to decide individually whether he can or cannot do so conscientiously. It is doubtless preferable to be separate from the atmosphere surrounding such activities, and the Christian may wisely arrange to make a change in his occupation. It is a matter each one must decide for himself and in accord with his circumstances and conscience. The Watch Tower Society does not decide as to an individual’s employment, as we previously stated in the September 15, 1951, Watchtower, page 574.