Questions From Readers
● What guidance does the Bible provide concerning gambling? For example, would it be bad for a Christian to put up small money stakes in a card game played just for entertainment?
The Scriptures do not provide a basis for any rigid rule against every “bet,” no matter how small. Yet they do help us to see that gambling is a serious wrong, one that can result in exclusion from the Christian congregation and from God’s kingdom.
The words “gamble” and “gambling” are sometimes used regarding activities involving a risk or hope of gain. A person might be spoken of as ‘taking a gamble’ that a new business he sets up or invests in will make a profit. But the discussion that follows is about the sort of “gambling” in which wagering or betting is involved. For example: “Gambling is generally defined as the voluntary risking of a sum of money called a stake, wager, or bet, on the outcome of a game or other event.” (Encyclopedia Americana) The Bible does not pointedly discuss such gambling.
Judges 14:11-19 tells of a test that Samson proposed involving payment, but rather than being a form of gambling, this was a strategy he used in “looking for an opportunity against” the enemy Philistines. Nor was the use of “lots” in Israel gambling; they were a means of getting God’s direction or settling disputes. (Prov. 16:33; 18:18; 1 Sam. 14:41, 42) And though the Hebrews played games and had races, there is no evidence that they bet on these. (Jer. 12:5) Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics observes: “So long as [the Israelites] remained agricultural, they seem to have been singularly free from the evil of gambling. In Babylon they became mercantile, and mixed with people among whom games of chance were part of regular ordinary life.”—Vol. VI, p. 164.
In this regard Isaiah 65:11, 12 refers to “the god of Good Luck” or Good Fortune to whom Babylonian gamblers looked for help. Any Israelite who, as those verses mention, prepared a table of food for such idol gods of luck would be following a course of apostasy.
Though the Bible does not discuss gambling in detail, it does provide us with principles that help in evaluating gambling. These make it clear that the Christian should be conscious of motive regarding gambling and of the effects gambling often produces.
It is widely acknowledged that gambling often leads to or incites greed. This is important to Christians, for the Bible strongly condemns “greediness.” God informs us that “greedy persons” will not inherit his kingdom, and that covetousness is to be classed with idolatry. Hence, sincere Christians want to avoid practices that might cause them to manifest greediness and thus to fall far short of the glory of God.—Col. 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Rom. 3:23.
Of course, greed can be manifest in many ways. A person might show excessive greed in his eating, becoming a glutton. Or, greedy excess in drinking might make him a drunkard. (Titus 1:12, 13; Prov. 23:20; 1 Tim. 3:3) However, eating is a normal, needed aspect of life. And even the enjoyment that some get from moderate amounts of alcoholic drinks involves a natural process, consuming as part of the daily fluid intake a beverage that the body can “burn” as fuel. So “greed” is not as frequently or easily connected with these things as with gambling.
The greed of gambling is a prime cause of much of the crime and violence associated with serious gambling operations. But even in the individual gambler greed is often an underlying motive. Do not many gamble because they hope to win what others will lose? This is recognized even by persons whose thinking is not primarily based on the Bible. Professor D. M. Smyth commented: “Through their promotion of lotteries governments are appealing to one of the lowest human qualities—greed. They are contributing to the corruption, not improvement, of human life. . . . The promoters of lotteries are encouraging the view that it is right for an individual to profit through the losses of many.”—Toronto Star.
Yet, someone might reason: ‘What if I played a friendly card or board game with relatives? We might bet small amounts of money, so no one could win or lose much. Could that not be just innocent entertainment, without any greediness?’
Some might argue that way. But where money is used, in however small amounts, the danger is obvious. It can be ‘the thin edge of the wedge,’ and especially would this be dangerous in encouraging the gambling spirit where children are among the players. Why not just keep a pencil score, or otherwise play the game simply for the fun of it? The spiritual elders in the congregation would not want to get involved in what you do in this respect. They would not try to legislate as did the religious leaders described at Luke 6:1-5. However, if it came to their attention that spirituality was endangered, they might give kind counsel as those who are ‘keeping watch over the souls’ of the flock.—Heb. 13:17.
Experience shows that many who became greedy, compulsive gamblers began by making petty bets ‘for entertainment.’ They saw that they could win small amounts and were tempted to try to win larger amounts. The greedy compulsion can addict a person, even leading to a life that previously would have been unthinkable. A former gambler in Canada commented: “I have a niece who loses $100 a week. Her husband has to work two jobs. Her kids are literally starving. She’ll beg, borrow and steal to play.”
Pride also is often involved as a motive behind gambling. Being able to win appeals to the spirit of pride. Yet God says: “Self-exaltation and pride . . . I have hated.” True worshipers are encouraged to cultivate modesty and humility.—Prov. 8:13; 11:2; 22:4; Mic. 6:8; Jas. 4:16.
Gamblers often magnify ‘Lady Luck.’ For them “luck” is not a word merely meaning good results, but is a superhuman influence like a god. Greed and pride move gamblers to trust in “luck.”
Gambling frequently has the effect of inducing laziness. It encourages persons to dream of getting something for nothing, even moving them to lie or cheat to win rather than work. But God’s Word counsels against laziness and urges thrift, diligence and hard work. “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”—Prov. 6:9-11; Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10.
The bad fruits of gambling are so notorious that in many communities gamblers are looked down upon, even if gambling is legal. Thus, the desire to have a “fine testimony from people on the outside,” and to avoid prejudicing others against the “good news of the kingdom” has added to the reasons why many Christians absolutely avoid all gambling.—1 Tim. 3:7, 10; Matt. 24:14; 1 Cor. 9:11-23; 2 Cor. 6:3.
Those serving as ‘shepherds of the flock’ are rightly interested in helping fellow Christians to avoid things that might damage their spirituality. Hence, if a person becomes involved in gambling and genuinely shows himself to be inclined toward greediness or the producing of some of the bad fruits associated with gambling, the elders would want to help. They could give counsel privately or publicly where they see dangerous tendencies toward greed. (1 Pet. 5:2, 3; Gal. 6:1) And if a Christian unrepentantly pursues a course of greediness, it might even be necessary to remove him from the congregation, in harmony with the directions in God’s Word, which says, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” Paul adds: “Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Cor. 5:11-13; 6:9, 10.
However, matters rarely get to that point, for true Christians completely avoid all forms of gambling. They want to produce the fruitage of the spirit, not to share in activities that are known to stimulate greed and to produce the works of the flesh. (Gal. 5:19-23) They appreciate the value of earning their living through honest work. As the apostle Paul admonished: “We exhort you, brothers, . . . to make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business and 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.”—1 Thess. 4:10-12.
Christians view what they have—including their life and their money or material resources—as devoted to God. They are responsible to God for the way they use these. So rather than squander their time and money on gambling pursuits that can induce greediness in them and that can harm others, they use their time and funds in ways that will honor Jehovah. (Prov. 3:9) In that way they ‘work at good, they are rich in fine works, ready to share.’ And, as Paul wrote, they are “safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Tim. 6:17-19.