Questions From Readers
◼ Is it appropriate for a Christian to buy lottery tickets as mere entertainment if the proceeds go to a charity?
The Bible certainly does not discourage fitting entertainment, for Jehovah is “the happy God.” (1 Timothy 1:11) His people can enjoy music, modest dancing, moderate eating or drinking, and balanced sports and games. (Psalm 150:4; Ecclesiastes 2:24) However, gambling clearly conflicts with God’s wise counsel, and this is true of sharing in lotteries.
Exactly what is a lottery? It involves buying tickets to have a chance to win prizes. Winners are determined by a drawing or some random way of choosing a number.a Often there is one huge prize, perhaps amounting to millions of dollars, pesos, or pounds. The appeal of such an enormous prize is so great that lotteries have become “the most widespread form of gambling.” (The World Book Encyclopedia) Hundreds of millions of people gamble by means of lotteries.
Some people have reasoned that being involved in a lottery is not wrong or bad because the cost of a ticket (chance) may be small, because those participating do so willingly, and because some of the proceeds may be used for a charitable purpose, such as helping the poor. How valid is such reasoning?
While some claim that buying a lottery ticket is simple, low-cost entertainment, there is no denying the greed factor. People buy lottery tickets hoping to win a lot of money. This certainly runs in the face of divine counsel against greediness, which can be such a serious vice that it can prevent a person from ‘inheriting God’s kingdom.’ Hence, if a Christian manifested persistent greed by gambling, he could be excluded from the congregation. (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10) The Bible says: “An inheritance is being got by greed at first, but its own future will not be blessed.” (Proverbs 20:21) If a Christian felt any impulse to ‘take a chance’ in a lottery, he should think seriously about the greed on which the lottery is based. Ephesians 5:3 says that ‘greediness should not even be mentioned among us,’ much less given in to by a Christian.
The largest portion of lottery players are usually found in poor communities. So even if the cost of a ticket is small, funds are being diverted that ought to go toward genuine family needs—more food, adequate clothing, improved medical care. A person who claims to be a Christian but neglects such family needs “is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:8.
Even if the cost of a lottery ticket would not significantly harm someone’s personal or family finances, that does not mean that others are not harmed. Why so? Because almost anyone buying a lottery ticket would like to win. From where would his prize money come? If his ticket cost ten pesos and the prize is a million pesos, that means that he takes the ticket money from a hundred thousand other people. Does that harmonize with God’s counsel against coveting others’ valuables? (Deuteronomy 5:21) In fact, his prize will involve money taken from many more people, for far more than a hundred thousand tickets will have to be sold. A goodly amount of ticket money must go for administrative costs, as well as some to the charitable purpose that is trumpeted as the rationale for the lottery. So even if a person can afford the ten pesos for his own ticket, what about vast numbers of others? Moreover, his winning will probably be publicized, moving many to begin playing the lottery or buying more tickets, even if they cannot afford this.
There is also no denying that bound up with the lottery is the dream of winning money without working for it. Yes, the lottery encourages laziness or appeals to it. The Bible, though, urges God’s people to be thrifty, industrious, and hardworking. Rather than promote a ‘get something for nothing’ spirit, it advises: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”—2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 13:4; 20:4; 21:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.
That others may share in a lottery of their own volition and that it is legal does not justify involvement in it by Christians. Some governments legalize other forms of gambling, as well as prostitution and polygamy. Though such things may be legal and many people are willingly involved in them, this does not mean that such activities are proper in God’s sight. Christians, rather, strive to reflect David’s view: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation.”—Psalm 25:4, 5.
If a Christian genuinely wants to help the poor, handicapped, or elderly, he certainly can do so directly or in a way that does not involve gambling.
a Though widely known as a lottery, this type of gambling may also be called a pool, sweepstakes, raffle, or some local name.