Playing Powerball! Is It Sinful?

The state of Texas (where I live) is only one of many which run a lottery. The proliferation of these games of chance brings to the forefront questions concerning the morality of gambling. Is gambling a sin? This article will attempt to answer honestly that question by an appeal to scripture. However, before the Bible is discussed in this regard, might I make a few salient points about lotteries in particular?

The Odds

A "super-lottery" called Powerball is now in the news. Approximately 20 different states have pooled resources to have one gigantic payoff to the lucky winner or winners. The odds of winning the last Powerball jackpot (almost $300 Million, won by 13 people who shared their tickets) have been published as 80.1 million to 1. In contrast, note the following odds, as quoted from a recent AP article:

A number of years ago, in writing on the newly formed Texas Lottery Scratch Off Game, I noted the following:

There can be only one explanation for people throwing money away in such large amounts. They are guilty of covetousness! Money has become their God! May it never be so among God's people.

A Secular Voice

This greed is being fed by corrupt governments, willing to compromise morals for a quick profit of its own. This sickness in society is recognized even by those who are not Christians. Notice the following article, written by a man by the name of Charles Colson. It addresses the problems with the Illinois lottery from a secular point of view. I think you will find it enlightening:

The Myth of the Money Tree

But, What Does the Bible Teach?.

A quick point just here. The amount you gamble is irrelevant. The principles we are about to address show gambling to be wrong. On principle. With no regard to amount. Just gambling a little can no more be justified than telling a "little white lie" or saying a cuss word "only every once in a while". If it is wrong, it is wrong!

The odds of winning in the lottery are atrocious. In the above mentioned Texas Scratch Off game, if you buy a lottery ticket, you are 68 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the advertised $1,000,000 prize with that ticket. Seeing such long odds on winning, a question comes to mind. Can a Christian be considered a good steward if he wastes his money in this pursuit? Paul states in I Timothy 5:8, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." If a man spends just $5 a week on the lottery, that comes to $260 in a year's time. Can you imagine a father telling his son they can't afford a new pair of shoes, or a meal, or even a toy, when he has thrown away that amount of money? Or even worse, explaining to God that "X" amount was all he could put in the plate on the first day of the week, when he has blown so much in the vain pursuit of the almighty dollar? Truly, "...the love of money is a root of all {kinds of} evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (I Timothy 6:10).

This love of money is what the Bible calls "covetousness". Notice the definition of the term covetousness, "Greedy desire to have more, avarice" (Thayer, page 516). Notice that avarice is a synonym stated by Thayer. Webster defines avarice as, "Insatiable or excessive desire for wealth or gain." The only reason for the existence and success of the lottery is covetousness. The only reason that anyone would by a ticket for the lottery is covetousness. The only reason for the enjoyment found in scratching the black off the ticket is covetousness. Covetousness is SIN, and Paul said, "let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints" (Ephesians 5:3).

Gambling is unjust gain. It is unjust because it harms others. How can a Christian possibly feel good about the $2, $20, $20,000, $1,000,000 or $290,000,000 he just won, when it has caused so much harm to others? The homeless who spend what little they have on the dream of getting rich. The poor who cash their food stamps in, and buy tickets. Yes, even the guy who can afford it, but who doesn't win. That money is his, not yours. You did not earn it! You did not give him something for it! He did not want you to have it! You took it from him! Until someone puts a fancy name on it, or until the State sponsors it, it is called STEALING. Surely you can see the sinfulness.

But, you might say, he didn't have to play, it was his choice. Perhaps, but what about his wife, or his children? I have no respect for a man who will buy his beer, or his cigarettes, or his lottery tickets while his wife and his children go hungry. And I have no respect for one who will take that man's money, and glory in his winnings, while that man's family suffers. That is what is happening in the lottery every day, and that is what you will be a part of if you play. Listen to the anger of the Lord when Israel was guilty of the same, "'In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me,' says the Lord God. 'Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst" (Ezekiel 22:12-13). Surely no man can read about that anger of God and then in good conscience participate in the lottery, or gambling of any kind. Paul stated in Romans 13:10, "Love does no harm to a neighbor..." You can't gamble and exhibit the love that is characteristic of all who would call themselves God's children.

The lottery is already causing problems in the Lord's church. Some who profess to be a children of God are beginning to press the point, asking, "What is wrong with playing the lottery? What possible harm could come from it?" There is no possible way to justify playing the lottery! There is no possible justification for any type of gambling, even if it is sponsored by the state. It doesn't matter if it is buying one ticket, or buying 1,000. It doesn't matter if you can afford it or not. It is sin! I am afraid that some of my brethren will try to rationalize away the guilt, as has been done so many other times regarding similar moral issues. It is wrong, it is sinful, and to participate is to do so at the soul's peril. Christians have tried to rationalize away the evil evident in such things as drinking, smoking, wearing short shorts and other immodest apparel, dancing, mixed swimming, long hair, second marriages, and on and on and on. This is just another threat to the purity of God's priesthood. Brethren, gambling is sin. Don't let yourself be fooled, and more importantly, DON'T FOOL YOURSELF!

e-mail Stan Cox

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