Should Christians Play the Lottery?

"Even after becoming a Believer, for years I defended the Christian liberty of others to gamble, including playing the lottery....I do not believe that playing the lottery is a matter of Christian liberty." - John Ellis

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Bert Perry's picture

....is that you're going to have some trouble establishing how playing the lottery jibes with "thou shalt not covet".  You've also got the plea that God not give one too much, let one forget God in Proverbs 30:9, and then the simple motivation of why one would want to play.  Finally, you've got the question--relevant for conservatives like myself--of why one would want to participate in the system that allows politicians to have a "guilt-free" pile of money to play with.  

Or, finally, since government skims half the money off the top, why anyone who can do math would ever participate....  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

John Ellis,

Yours is a very good article against lotteries and gambling.  Hope everyone here reads it. 

David R. Brumbelow

John E.'s picture

Thank you, David.

RajeshG's picture

Have you considered that Scripture rules out playing the lottery because the objective behind doing so is directly spoken against in the following passage:

Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

Trying to become rich hastily, such as by winning the lottery, is here spoken against by God as something that will be punished:

NAU Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.

NET Proverbs 28:20 A faithful person will have an abundance of blessings, but the one who hastens to gain riches will not go unpunished.

NKJ Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.

CSB Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will have many blessings, but one in a hurry to get rich will not go unpunished.

ESV Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.

NIV Proverbs 28:20 A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

Dan Miller's picture

I think that the Biblical argument against the lottery is pretty clear. 

Consider that there are two "reasons" to play:

1) to get money -

My brother calls the lottery a "tax on stupidity." If you're dumb enough to think it's a good way to get money, then you have to pay a tax on that stupidity. It's just not a good way to get money. Obviously, the lottery makes money, so it won't be paying out as much as people put in.

2) to have "fun."

The only "fun," if one is honest with oneself, is in participating in the hope of great riches. By participating, one can hope that he might win, and in that hope is an inner pleasure in contemplating the "what if." This simply is not where we should be putting our hope.

------====------

On the topic of liberty, John, you seem to take the position: If I can make a robust Biblical argument against playing the lottery, then it is not a matter of liberty; it is Biblically wrong.

M. Osborne's picture

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
WCF 1.6

@Dan Miller re:

On the topic of liberty, John, you seem to take the position: If I can make a robust Biblical argument against playing the lottery, then it is not a matter of liberty; it is Biblically wrong.

Of course we can argue about what is a good and necessary consequence, but I would think that if something is a good and necessary consequence of Scripture, it's not a matter of liberty.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

M. Osborne's picture

This is a live question for those in church leadership, especially if you're committed to biblical church discipline.

Is all gambling the same? Friends playing poker privately for pennies; friends playing poker privately for higher stakes ($50-$100); playing in a poker tournament with substantial stakes; playing at a casino; playing the lottery.

John's article focused on the question, "Just what is it that I'm participating in?" And when you ask the question that way, the above scenarios fall under varying descriptions. The lottery appears very different on the individual level than it does when you take a step back and look at it on a global level. And for the record, I agree with all the problems noted.

At any rate: if you wind up with the conclusion that one or more of the scenarios is not a matter of Christian liberty, how should a local church handle it? If a member refuses to give up poker tournaments, does it become a matter of church discipline? (Let's assume that the poker tournaments are a side hobby kept within a budget.)

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

G. N. Barkman's picture

It's one thing to point out the problems with gambling in whatever form.  It's another to make a clear case of gambling prohibition from the Bible.  Motive is a huge factor, and we aren't very good at discerning motives.  Only God knows the heart.  So, am I gambling because I am covetous, or because I consider it an entertaining sport?  My personal recommendation is don't gamble.  Period.  I certainly don't, and I would recommend that others stay away from it if they are wise.  But if they don't, do I have a right to censure them because of it?  Not so sure about that.  If they gamble away their income, and fail to feed their family and pay their bills, if they are a member of our church, we have a duty to deal with Biblically defined sin.  But is the sin gambling, or failing to provide for their household and satisfy their creditors?

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

GNB, you're adding another level to this. I was approaching it from the standpoint of whether it is permissible to buy 1 or a few lottery tickets. I would say no. But if one becomes addicted and gambles so much that they can't provide for their home, that's another level of clear sin.

John hasn't answered my question. But to Michael, I would say: while, in my view, a conviction against gambling (even one lottery ticket) would be a good Biblical conviction, I would say that it is a matter of liberty.

Bert Perry's picture

The comments (GN, M. Osborne, etc..) about pointing out that you've got two things going on at least with gambling in general--the covetousness/whatever motive and the enjoyment of a game of chance--where church leaders/disciple-makers would need to understand that the motive matters a lot.  My position is that I'm fine with playing things like poker or dice if you can separate things from greed and covetousness.  Might be a lot like our discussions of Strong's 3196; those who partake might do well to either (a) keep the stakes low or (b) know the others involved so you're not causing a huge problem.

With the lottery, you've got one more factor in play, though (at least): the lottery really tends to take advantage of the poor by giving them false hope of prosperity.  Now my dollar or $5 in that pot isn't going to be the entire difference between a "why bother?" amount in the pot and a "I gotta get me some tickets", but when you get millions of Christians participating "for the fun of it", that does collectively make playing more tempting.  And I know on bad days at work, I've certainly been tempted.  Can't imagine how it is for someone who's genuinely been poor.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

I saw your question earlier and have been puzzling over how to answer. I feel like I'm missing something (most likely my fault). Your more recent comment added to the puzzlement. You wrote, "I was approaching it from the standpoint of whether it is permissible to buy 1 or a few lottery tickets. I would say no."

Unless I'm misunderstanding your comment, you are stating that you do not believe it is permissible to even buy 1 or fewer lottery tickets. Yet, later, you add "I would say: while, in my view, a conviction against gambling (even one lottery ticket) would be a good Biblical conviction, I would say that it is a matter of liberty."

How are you defininng "liberty?" On one hand, you state that it's not permissible to buy a lottery ticket (I'm presuming that you're using the Bible as your rubric for why it's not permissible), but then you say that gambling is a "matter of liberty." I'm having a hard time putting those two thing together in my mind. Again, no doubt the problem is with me.

Dan Miller's picture

John, you have just asked ME, "How are you defininng 'liberty?'"

I'm just pointing that out. 

John E.'s picture

Again, I feel like I'm missing something. Some context or some information. I don't understand why it's a Pandora's Box to ask you how you define liberty.

If anything, you've inspired me to write an article about Christian liberty. Maybe my forthcoming article will inadvertently answer your questions. 

Brother, I'm not intending to be either obtuse or cagey (not even sure which one I may unintentionally being), it just seems like I'm not "picking up what you're putting down." 

Larry's picture

Moderator

If you want to play the lottery, send me the money you are going to use to buy tickets. I will send half of it back to you and you will be ahead of where you would have been if you had bought tickets.

Bert Perry's picture

Like Larry, I'll send half of it back with a nice, handwritten thank you note!  With a fountain pen.  On nice paper.

Sorry, Larry, don't mean to infringe on your business here.  :^)  Seriously, my earlier comments stand; I don't want to have anything to do with giving false hope to the poor that way.   I'd also bet Larry feels close to the same way.  

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

I have written A LOT here about Christian Liberty. Probably the topic I've spend the most words on. For instance, https://sharperiron.org/tag/series-weak-faith

Christian Liberty...

If something is not prohibited in Scripture, we may be said to be "at liberty" to do it. (This sense of the word liberty is different from our "liberty from sin," which is the ability God gives us to not sin.)

The difficulty is that we often differ about whether the Scriptures prohibit certain things. 

In the attempt to define Christian Liberty, it is often said, "Christian Liberty is the set of things about which good men differ." Well, even if you narrow the "good men" definition to be SharperIron Members, if you made a list of things about which we differ, you could make a pretty long list. And many things on the list are things to which we can apply Biblical principles. 

dgszweda's picture

This is the slot machine that I most enjoy playing.  Every time I see this at a Casino tend to get all of my money back.  While I have never lost anything, I haven't really won anything either.

 

MissionaryA.Berry's picture

I have always used the comment: Christians always associate with Jesus on the cross, not the soldiers gambling for his garments at the foot of the cross.

Romaklok

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I may be misreading it as well, but I took John's question to Dan to be about how Dan could consider the issue of gambling to be wrong but still liberty.  I read Dan's post as Dan having a personal conviction against it while still considering it a liberty for others -- as long as it doesn't get into addiction and not providing for one's family which he considers separate from whatever sin may be involved in buying a single lottery ticket.

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

dcbii wrote:
...I read Dan's post as Dan having a personal conviction against it while still considering it a liberty for others...

Yes. That is well put. And I think that sort of thinking is always the way we should think of convictions. And it must be Biblical in order to be a "personal conviction." If it isn't Biblical, it's just a personal like/dislike. So "Biblical conviction" does not imply "everyone should agree." Though, as AaronB has said, "persuasion is always on the table."

Joeb's picture

Here is a question.  Say I play the powerball once in a blue moon for $2 and net win $100 mil.  Then I offer to give $50 million to Bob Jones University as a gift would Bob Jones be in sin taking my donation.    Just wondering.