What does the Bible have to say about gambling?
Oh, Theophilus, you must be putting together your fantasy football draft board and getting a guilty conscience! I am teasing, but I do find it interesting that many Christians participate in fantasy football and other forms of gambling without critically reflecting on the morality of gambling. Thus, I appreciate your question!
Moralists and philosophers throughout history have generally viewed gambling among the vices. However, in my experience, virtually nobody (even among my Christian friends) demonstrates any qualms about it, other than perhaps its relationship to debt or addiction.
The short answer is that the Bible does not say much about gambling directly. You will not find a verse saying, “Thou shalt not gamble.” Therefore, we should be careful not to convey a “Thus sayeth the Lord” where the Lord does not sayeth. This does not mean, however, the Bible has nothing to say. If you did a quick Internet search of Bible verses on gambling, you would find lists of verses dealing with vices like greed and the love of money. As an example, 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” This is relevant. What motivates gambling if not a love of money? I want to suggest, however, some ways to think about it beyond simply patching verses together.
First, when we ask about whether something is moral – which I think is at the heart of your question – we are really asking, “What is good? What is the good thing for me to do?” I argue that we cannot answer the question of what is good in any meaningful way without an understanding of purpose. That is, good living is what aligns with our God-designed purpose. Bad living (i.e., sin) is a violation of our God-designed purpose.
How does this help us with the gambling question? The biblical worldview values work. Work and the connection between our work and our wealth is a part of God’s design and purpose for us. This is established in Genesis 1 and 2 and is reflected in the Scriptures. For example, Proverbs 28:19 says, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.” The Apostle Paul makes this connection: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
What is the nature of gambling? Gambling is an attempt to acquire wealth without work. My concern with gambling comes not in the losing but in the winning. It divorces the pursuit of wealth from work.
Second, we can also consider the results of our actions: character. The things we repeatedly do becomes who we are. That is, as we live, we form our character. Consider gambling from this point of view. What is the character reinforced by gambling? Does gambling shape virtues such as contentment, self-control, diligence, generosity, faithfulness and so on? A gambler may dismiss whether it is having a negative effect on them, but it is hard to deny the connection with impulsiveness, thrill-seeking and the love of money.
Theophilus, these are simply a couple of thoughts for you to consider as you wrestle with this question. There is more to be say, and this certainly does not carry the weight of a direct command from God. It is an attempt to bring the Christian worldview to bear on the matter. I do not wag my finger at friends who gamble, but I choose to abstain. I am encouraged you have cared to ask the question!
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