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I’m really into fantasy football with a group of my buddies from college. I’m sure you’ve been in a league before, so you know, it’s a ton of fun. Anyhow, someone in the group suggested upping the stakes and putting money on the table, in other words, gambling. It’s a nominal amount of cash, but the idea of it has given me pause and forced me to consider if God cares that I wager on this league. Any thoughts?
If you knew me, you’d know that “I’m sure you’ve been in a league before” is a great joke. I mean, I like sports and all, but I know nothing about individual athletes, and certainly not enough to download players and click on the little computer men and make them play each other. That’s how it works, right?
In any event, the question you’ve asked is universal—that is, is gambling wrong? “Wrong,” for the sake of total clarity, being defined as wrong in God’s economy of things. And to answer your question, I’m now going to talk out of both sides of my mouth. Let’s get started…
The Bible Says It’s Fine (Kind of)!
Guess what, the Bible never mentions gambling. Nope, not once. You can Google search your way from Adam to apocalypse and never find a single “do” or “don’t” penned by God’s people about gambling. Which, of course, does lend some credence to the position that it is acceptable, or at least not theologically prohibited, to bet on your fantasy league. Because while God may care about betting, it clearly wasn’t enough of a universal issue to put a flag in the sand and say, “Thou shall not.”
So on one hand George, I don’t think you’re walking into an inherently and explicitly sinful situation like, say, murder or adultery.
On the other hand however…
The Bible Says It’s Not Fine (Kind of)!
While The Bible doesn’t say, “Don’t gamble,” God does parent us in a different way. Allow me to explain:
I have two daughters. And sometimes, in the course of raising these two women, I have to say to them, “Don’t (hit, run into the parking lot, etc.).” They need this clarity on some issues, and they need me to put hard walls around certain aspects of their behavior.
Conversely, and to the point I’m trying to make, I can also teach them by telling them what they can do, and allowing that permission and affirmation to guide future actions. For example: “Please be kind to your sister” and “Thank you for remembering to say ‘Please’” Both of these statements are void of restriction, but do cause them to avoid certain behaviors (example: biting) in order to accomplish others (example: being kind to your sister). If possible, this is my favorite way to teach and to be taught.
In similar fashion, God doesn’t say, “Hey kid, don’t gamble!” But God does say:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). (This is Jesus speaking, by the way.)
“Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it” (Proverbs 13:11).
And the list goes on. There are literally hundreds of statements, encouragements, warnings and admonitions about how properly to handle money. Which then raises the thought: What might God be telling us about gambling?
The Real Question
Honestly, I’m asking you: What is the message that, if our hearts are aligned with God’s, we are supposed to understand here?
I would answer that question by saying that gambling, in a purely innocent and game playing form is probably not a big deal. However—and this is a big however—gambling is also an act that runs dangerously close to tampering with the areas that God truly does, explicitly, care about and warn against. Areas like financial stewardship, addiction, worshiping money and even supporting the exploitation of people. Gambling may not specifically aid in these sinful patterns, but it might.
So, George, the ball is in your court. Because for me, if faced with the exact same dilemma, I’d have no problem throwing 10 bucks into a pool with some of my buddies. But that’s me. I don’t struggle with gambling addiction, I wouldn’t be spending my kid’s college fund, so I feel it would be harmless for me. However, for others reading this, gambling a bit may be a gateway to a huge world of pain.
That’s the thing with sin: We all live under a common umbrella of sins to avoid, but, in addition, we all get our own customized settings. I’d pay attention to what this is doing inside of you, George. And if you’re putting much more than a casual thought into it, I’d take that as a sign that maybe the Holy Spirit, which dwells in you, is trying to throw a warning your way.
John Wesley once preached, “The Holy Spirit has enabled men to speak with tongues, and to prophesy; but the light that most necessarily attends it is a light to discern the fallacies of flesh and blood, to reject the irreligious maxims of the world, and to practice those degrees of trust in God.”
I’d run gambling (and a lot of other things) though the filter of the Holy Spirit. Because while we’re all prone to wander (Lord, I feel it), we have a God who is for us and wants to help us answer questions like yours—questions that aren’t about the law or commandments, but questions that are about the heart and motivations.
Thanks for asking a great question, George. And good luck the season. Go Seahawks!
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.