Some time ago the front page of one of Singapore’s tabloids reported that a dishwasher lady had gambled away $92,000 of her family’s money (from the sale of a flat) by playing the jackpot and had resorted to begging from strangers to feed herself.
According to an Inland Revenue source, jackpot machines here gobbled up more than $600 million in the last financial year (this amount excludes other forms of gambling). This obsessive and addictive game has adversely affected many families and Christians are not immune. This is a great cause for concern, especially with the explosive increase in Internet gambling that is occurring currently.
Ancient curse and modern scourge
Gambling has been a vice in human civilisation since time immemorial. The Chinese culture has records of gambling games dated from 2300 B.C. The six-sided marking of dice has been conjectured to come from Arabia.
During the patristic era, church fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian condemned gambling in their writings. During the Middle Ages, in the fifteenth century, it is recorded that Pope Leo X was addicted to card playing. John Calvin, the sixteenth century Reformer, preached against gambling, prostitution and drunkenness in Geneva and sought to eradicate these vices from the city.
The New England Puritans, who left England in the early seventeenth century because of religious persecution, outlawed gambling, which quickly infected the colonies. By the nineteenth century, gambling was widespread in both hemispheres of the globe and had been legalised by some governments. The gambling population increased after the Second World War to epidemic proportions.
It is said that today in the USA gambling goes on to the tune of more than $30 billion a year. It has been noted in a recent survey that at least 88 million Americans participate in some form of gambling – and 15.5 million gamble illegally. Singaporeans are not far behind in suffering from this social malady.
Furthermore, Internet gambling is a fast-growing industry with estimated 2003 revenues of more than $4 billion in the USA alone. This will inevitably rise, providing gambling opportunities to a new generation and bringing serious gambling into the home for the first time.
What gambling involves
Gambling attracts all kinds of people – housewives, professionals, retirees and teenagers – who try their ‘luck’ at lotteries, horse-racing, and betting on petty social games like pool, poker, mah-jong, and jackpot. Big-time casino-style gambling takes place on cruise liners and in certain cities dedicated to the gambling industry – such as Genting Highlands (Malaysia), Macau, Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Money by the million changes hands every day in these gambling dens. Some more sophisticated gamblers try their luck on the stock and money markets by speculating in stocks and share options – not for prudent long-term investment but for quick profit, trying to take advantage of fluctuations in the marketplace.
Gambling involves the transfer of money from one person or organisation to another for the chance to multiply the amount without productive effort on the part of the possessor. This is undesirable and unacceptable to say the least, and Christians should have nothing to do with it.
In gambling, the willingness to take risk is twisted by the desire to get something for nothing. Gambling is thus a sin of irresponsible stewardship of our resources. It is parasitic, producing no personal growth and achieving no additional economic or social benefit to others.
What’s wrong with gambling?
While the Bible may not state any specific prohibition against modern ways of gambling, it does provide clear insights and principles which indicates unquestionably that gambling is wrong.
To begin with, gambling is contrary to the moral law of God expressed in the Decalogue. Covetousness is strictly forbidden by the tenth commandment. The emphasis in true biblical religion is on reliance and fidelity towards God – contentment with godliness is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6,10).
The Christian life is a life of faith, trust and hard work – not the cultic worship of luck and wealth or the idolatrous deification of chance. The faith of a believer magnifies the sovereign and providential care of God, whereas the cult of luck and chance (implicit in gambling) rejects that care and questions God’s wisdom in giving us less wealth and fewer possessions than we want.
Gain without labour
Paul encourages industry and honest work and condemns those who try to get gain without labour. ‘For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
In another passage, he urges the man, as head of the home, to work to provide for his family: ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel’ (1 Timothy 5:8).
The most directly relevant passages are those that teach contentment – the very opposite of an avaricious desire to gamble. The love of money which motivates the gambler is truly a root of all evil. Be thankful for what you have – and for what you do not have as well! Why? Because godliness with contentment is great gain!
Can we serve two masters?
Paul writes, ‘For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:7-10).
Jesus makes it clear that you cannot serve money (‘mammon’, the god of the gambler) and Christ at the same time. They are mutually incompatible. Matthew 6:24 says, ‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon’.
The apostle declares that all Christians will be judged on their faithfulness – and gamblers are poor stewards when they squander their money and God-given resources. Paul says, ‘Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful’ (1 Corinthians 4:2). Gambling can hardly be described as faithfulness.
Compulsive gambling has been identified as a form of addiction or psychological disorder. The compulsive gambler has become enslaved and cannot but gamble. It is a behavioural disorder and has ensnared many. Christians are called to be ‘slaves of righteousness’, not of harmful habits (Romans 6:18).
The Bible calls for responsible stewardship, not reckless covetousness and worldly materialism which amount to idolatrous worship (Colossians 3:5). And if successful, gambling almost invariably regresses into a form of ‘glorified theft’.
How? Because by gambling the winner receives deceitfully the wages of another – without giving any service or goods in return. It is almost daylight robbery.
To risk money haphazardly in gambling is to disregard the biblical teaching that our possessions are a trust from God for which we are accountable at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Gambling compounds family problems and disharmony and has destroyed many lives. I have personally known family relationships that were strained by the ravages of a gambling binge.
The biblical injunction is for believers to be industrious and enjoy the fruits of their labour (Galatians 6:7-9). He who labours will, little by little, receives a good reward. By contrast, wealth gathered by gambling will vanish quickly.
The Christian must reject the idea of gambling in any form and any amount (even during Chinese New Year!) because it is against the clear teaching of Scripture and the biblical work-ethnic.
Unlike honest hard work, gambling creates no new economic wealth but merely redistributes it – depriving legitimate business, enriching a few, and impoverishing many. In fact gambling is frequently associated with crime, vice, violence and drugs. The underworld thrives on gambling to fund its activities. Gambling is a sophisticated form of theft that is accepted by society, where one gains from another without working for it.
A gambler, therefore, cannot have a good testimony and witness for the Lord. The obedient and Spirit-filled believer should have nothing to do with an activity that is contrary to godliness, contentment, stewardship and sanctification. Let us fight against this temptation and not fall into the snare of the evil one