At the Baptist Assembly I was reminded of an amusing story of the time London Bible College was redeveloping its site and obtained a grant from the Sports Council towards building some tennis courts. There was some embarrassment when the plaque arrived bearing the legend, “Sponsored by Littlewoods Pools.” But then, some people might ask, what’s wrong with that?
Should Christians buy tickets for the National Lottery? What about raffle tickets at the school fete? Or a fiver on the Grand National? What about the Football Pools? Or online bingo, or online poker? What’s wrong with gambling? In the interests of honesty, perhaps I should say up front that this sermon could equally be entitled “20 reasons why Christians shouldn’t play the National Lottery and another 50 reasons why the National Lottery should be banned”!
I could just make a general statement: “gambling is just wrong.” But we need to think more deeply than that. What does the Bible say about gambling?
I could also make a “slippery slope” argument. We once helped a man who had a gambling habit. He had a good job, a good income and a lovely home, but his debts through betting on sporting events amounted to £80,000. It is self-evident that in some cases like that gambling completely wrecks lives. And the argument goes that even simple betting like playing the National Lottery is not just “a harmless flutter” but rather the start of a slippery slope which can become an obsessive habit which can lead to ruin. This is true. But then I believe there are other even more powerful arguments we can make that gambling is wrong, not only for Christians but for everybody.
GAMBLING IS BAD STEWARDSHIP
Listen to the parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
(You will remember that something similar happened with the man who had been given two talents.)
24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
As Christians we are accountable to God for how we use the treasures He has entrusted into our keeping. I remember a discussion we had as young people in our Youth Group forty years ago. Should Christians invest in Premium Bonds? Answer – no! Because we would be robbing God of the interest that money could be earning in the bank.
We may say, “It’s my money.” But the truth is it is all God’s money given to us to use wisely. Any form of gambling, even buying a lottery ticket, is a waste of God’s money.
When it comes to the National Lottery, the advertisements will tell you that it is just another way of giving to charity. Up until now around 30 billion pounds has been raised for “good causes” by the National Lottery. But in fact out of every pound spent on lottery tickets more than 50p is paid to winners in prize money. 12 pence goes to the government in Lottery Duty, or tax. Retailers earn around 5 pence in commission and operating costs are around 4 pence in the pound.
So out of one pound spent on the National Lottery only 28 pence goes to the famed good causes. Of that, around 15 pence goes toward sports, the arts and heritage projects. Leaving around 8 pence in the pound for health, education and environment projects. All non-charitable. Only 5 pence in the pound of National Lottery tickets actually goes to charities. So of those 30 billion pounds given to good causes, only £5 billion has gone to charities. 50 billion pounds has been paid out as prize money. And the government has collected more than £12 billion in Duty.
So buying a lottery ticket is not giving to charity. If people want to give to charity they can give the whole pound directly and get an extra 25 more back in Gift Aid. Not just giving 5p. And I mustn’t get started on the big questions which need to be asked about the kinds of charities which Lottery money supports. Some of those are Christians definitely wouldn’t want to be associated with or give money to!
The argument around stewardship does not only apply to Christians. There are many families and individuals struggling with poverty yet some of them would spend money on gambling before they would spend it on food. For them a big win on the pools or the lottery or a bet on the horses is their false hope of escape from poverty. In reality the gambling habit is part of their problem.
GAMBLING REINFORCES WRONG ATTITUDES TO MONEY
So many people in society think that money is all important. Money is the answer to all their problems. Money is the way to happiness. And gambling just reinforces these wrong attitudes.
People should not put their trust in wealth or possessions for their happiness or their security. People should put their trust in God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us this.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Money won’t buy happiness or peace or eternal security. Many people who have won big prizes of the Lottery or the Pools have discovered that money does not make them happy but instead wrecks their lives.
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The Parable of the Rich Fool is a solemn warning to anybody who rests their hopes on money or wealth or possessions.
Luke 12 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Gambling encourages greed. There is something truly obscene about somebody being given in an instant more than they could earn in a lifetime, or ten lifetimes. I cannot imagine how a Christian who bought a winning lottery ticket could accept that kind of prize and square their conscience except by giving all that money away. Gambling just panders to greed.
And gambling contradicts one of the very important purposes of work.
God’s plan is that people should earn their keep. In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul gave this rule.
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
God did not create human beings to be idle but to be active. Not to be lazy but to work for their living. Winning money by gambling subverts this purpose of work. Whether it is by “games of chance” like the lottery or so-called “games of skill” such as poker or betting on the horses, gambling is all about obtaining money without effort, without rendering a service or exchanging goods or even receiving a gift from the generosity of others. Gambling is receiving a gift from the gullibility of others. In this way gambling is a perversion of the good uses for which money and wealth are intended.
The apostle Paul warns us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
1 Timothy 6 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Gambling encourages people to love money more than God!
GAMBLING IS WORSHIPPING FALSE GODS
Paul encourages Christians to live a new life and become like Christ.
Colossians 3 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Here is a list of serious sins: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires. And then at the end Paul adds another sin which is just as serious: greed, which is idolatry.
The ten commandments in Exodus 20 end with covetousness.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
But they begin with idol worship.
2“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3“You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
And here in Colossians 3:5 Paul tells us that greed is actually idolatry. People worshipping wealth and possessions are actually worshipping false gods.
Does anybody happen to know what the logo of the National Lottery is?
It is the hand of fate.
It is a hand with the first and middle fingers crossed, a superstitious symbol for luck. With the name “The National Lottery” and the strapline – “Life changing”. The hand of fate saying “It could be you.” Registered Trademark.
Gambling encourages people to put their trust in the false gods of luck or fate or destiny instead of in the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth.
Very many people would say they have their own “lucky numbers”, which they would choose if they were buying a lottery ticket. Some people would also have their own “unlucky numbers” and they would avoid living in a house with that number, or staying in a hotel room with that number, or avoid doing important things on that day in the month. Living your life by lucky numbers and unlucky numbers may just be superstition, but for some people it can become an evil trap!
You may remember that when the National Lottery started in 1994 one of the regular features was Mystic Meg, an astrologer and psychic who made her predictions of which numbers would win. Many gamblers look to astrology or psychics or other forms of fortune telling to choose their numbers or their winners. We should not forget that all forms of fortune telling are condemned in Scripture.
Deuteronomy 18 9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
If gambling leads a person to experiment in fortune-telling, that is a very dangerous doorway into danger.
So what’s wrong with gambling? It can be a slippery slope. It is bad stewardship and it reinforces wrong attitudes to money. Gambling can even be an expression of worshipping false gods. So should Christians gamble? Of course not! Should Christians ever buy a Lottery Ticket? I think not. Should we buy a raffle ticket at the school fete? I never would.
But what about churches or Christian organisations applying for and accepting funding from the National Lottery to repair their buildings or to fund charitable works with the community? Again, I don’t believe that is right. Lottery money is tainted with the debts of all the people who could not afford the tickets they bought and the greed of all the people who thought life could be different if only they got lucky.
So what’s wrong with gambling? There’s plenty wrong with gambling!