It’s a relationship you can nearly always count on – as Powerball jackpots grow, so do the lines of people buying tickets for it. Currently in America, there’s almost a perfect storm-like atmosphere for Powerball and similar gambling products. Take a down-in-the-dumps economy, add lots of individuals who are out of work, sprinkle in constant fears of another possible recession, mix well, and you have the kind of environment that causes people to seek financial deliverance from any possible provider.
In other words, it’s the type of thing gambling proponent’s dream of.
For Christians, topics like ‘Is it sinful for a believer to buy a Powerball ticket’ oftentimes divides the Body of Christ. On the one hand, there are those who argue that it is only a game and like anything else (eating, drinking, etc.) it’s acceptable as long as it does not become controlling and overly indulged in. On the other side of the fence are believers who argue that gambling on any level is morally wrong. Which side is correct?
A Jet Tour of What the Bible says about Money
Giving an adequate answer to the dilemma first requires a Biblical review of money in general, after which gambling itself can be examined.
Where money is concerned, the Bible certainly is not silent. To begin, Scripture makes it clear that everything belongs to God. Paul simply asks his readers, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Even though individuals work and earn money, the Bible says that it is God who is the ultimate source of their income: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (Deut. 8:18).
The Bible also says that we should ultimately trust in God and not get-rich-quick schemes that promise income: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Additionally, Scripture makes it clear that money is to be gained through work and labor: “In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23), and “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty” (Prov. 28:19).
Further, the Bible warns against debt and owing any creditor large amounts of money: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov. 22:7), and “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).
In fact, the opposite of debt is advocated in Scripture – saving money vs. becoming a debtor: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6–8).
Finally, the Bible promotes a generous and willing heart to share what financial resources a person has gained through their labor: “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). Jesus simply said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
These principles explain the core truths that are summarized in God’s Word. Money itself is not evil, but a controlling passion for it is according to Paul: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9–10).
Like Paul, Jesus, in His parable about the sower, also warned how the desire for money can thwart the pursuit of true riches that come from living in accordance with God’s precepts: “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).
These principles then become our building blocks as we turn our attention to gambling and activities like Powerball.
A Brief Examination of Gambling in General
Today, gambling can be seen in a variety of forms: lotteries, casinos, sports betting, quick stop gaming stands (video poker, etc.), and perhaps the most prevalent type today, online or internet gambling. Gaming is ‘good’ business, with a recent report estimating the global casino and online gaming industry to generate $127 billion; a 6% increase over the prior year.
While these modern varieties of gambling exist today, gambling itself has been around for a very long time, and universally, the Church has taken a dim view of it.
For example, an early second century sermon preached out of a North Africa church contained the following description of gambling: "The game of dice is an obvious snare of the devil. He presides over the game in person, bringing to it the deadly venom of the serpent and even inducing ruin which when it is seen to be nothing, a great let down is brought about in the players.”
Key figures in Christianity down through history have also held an unfavorable view of gambling. Augustine said, “The devil invented gambling.” Martin Luther proclaimed, “Money won by gambling is not won without sin and self-seeking sin.” John Calvin outlawed gambling in the city of Geneva.
But why did these key figures and others in the Church reject gambling – why did they believe gambling to be sinful? First, as opposed to the proper spirit promoted by the Bible where money is concerned, gambling typically grows to manifest the following internal attitudes:
- Reliance on chance vs. reliance on God’s providence
- Laziness vs. working
- A callous heart towards charity
- Seeks gain from the loss of others
Second, from a philosophical perspective, gambling shows itself to be devoid of value and worth, despite what many governmental officials promise where revenue from gaming is concerned. Philosophically speaking, the nature of any “thing” can be known by the effects it produces. From an internal, personal standpoint, the attributes above show that gambling results in very poor personal effects. From an external facing position, gambling shows itself to be no better, producing the following effects:
- Dishonesty in business practices
- Family strife and divorce
- Exploitation of the poor
This being the case, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that gambling activities like Powerball demonstrate themselves to be spiritually bankrupt when both its external and internal effects are examined.
For Whom do you set your Table?
In the Old Testament, God specifically warned about the spirit behind gambling when He said: “But you who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight and chose that in which I did not delight” (Is. 65:11–12).
The phrase “set a table” in the above context means to bring food to an idol. The Hebrew word for “Destiny” comes from the Hebrew word Meni, which means ‘luck’. Israel was literally worshipping the gods of luck and fortune, and trusting them for their needs, rather than God.
Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, it is foolish thinking to believe His views on the matter have changed, no matter what modern form it takes. Rather, we should adhere to Paul’s advice that instructs believers like us not to look to luck and fortune as our deliver, but instead focus "on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).