Hi Ernest, a friend of mine has been gambling and he has now become addicted to the whole thing. He wins some and he loses some. Actually he loses quite a lot. I am concerned that this behaviour is consuming his time and money. He is about to wed and I have warned him that he will not be a good husband because this addictive behaviour will follow him into marriage. However, he challenged me by asking “Where in the Bible does it say that gambling and betting is wrong?” I didn’t have a Bible verse for that but I promised him I would find one and get back to him so that he can stop. Do you have some scriptures that would help?
Hey! Thanks for writing. The gambling industry in our country is growing very rapidly. While some are bagging millions and smiling all the way to the bank, some are tying lassos and dying out of depression from losses.
You friend requesting for scriptural references could mean two things. Firstly, it could mean that they recognize the authority of scripture (Which makes we wonder if they are a believer). Secondly, it could mean that they dismiss your threat about being a bad future husband by trying to show not even the Bible is against them. Some people use scripture as an authority reference to guide their behaviours. Some people use scripture as a shield to justify they behaviours. The Lord weighs the heart’s motives in whichever case. However, whichever category your friend falls in, the most important principle to learn is this: behavioural change without change of heart is no change at all. Behaviour change without change of heart is external cosmetics without the true form of character. When people seek help, focus on heart change more than behaviour change. The latter will always follow the former. But the former will never be seduced by the latter, no matter how sincere. Change must be genuine. And genuine change must be from the heart. And a change of heart comes from God. So I will give you a short answer to your question and a long answer as well.
The short answer to your question is just to send your friend these verses against gambling.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time. (NLT)
Proverbs 28:22 Greedy people try to get rich quick but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty. (NLT)
The long answer is more incisive. Those verses will have no effect on your friend if his heart is not changed. In only a matter of days or weeks, he will find another Bible verse to twist and counter these. He may tell you that Jesus’ clothes were gambled by the Roman Soldiers. I suspect your friend used the scripture challenge not to desire change but to shield his evidently harmful behaviour of gambling. Getting back to him by hurling scripture may not elicit the long-term desired response. Quoting the statistics of depressed losers will not do it either. The fear of consequences is not a deterrent when the fear of God is absent. Your friend is deceived. If you surgically examine the situation and his words, you will get to his heart and you will understand how he has been deceived. And if you understand how he has been deceived, you will know how to minister to him effectively. Let’s do some surgery.
The deception of money
You raised concern that your friend is getting addicted to the gambling. In my short stints in ministry, I have seen for a fact that every addiction stems from a lack of joy. Addictions give temporary highs of ecstasy and often leave one used, confused and abused. You know you are an addict when you seek refuge in the very thing that causes you distress. Addictions are symptoms of desire for a higher satisfaction and the pursuit of happiness is often a symptom of a lack of joy. Those that think the pursuit of wealth will give them the satisfaction of the soul have fallen prey to the deception of money. Don’t interpret my diagnosis to the extreme like some would. I am not suggesting that to desire to pay your bills, live comfortably and educate your children in good schools is a bad thing. I am by no means equating asceticism and material lack to be synonymous to an increase in spirituality. But neither am I equating an increase in abundance to be synonymous to an increase in godliness. This is the chorus of the prosperity preachers of the age whose claim is that God wanting you to be rich, healthy and wealthy is the ultimate ambition of life. We would kill the patient in our surgery with such bad theology. And secondly, by joy I do not mean circumstantial bliss like a new car, a smiling girlfriend or a fully-paid scholarship. I mean un-budged delight even in the midst of pain and loss- gloom and doom. It is the kind of joy that keeps your heart at peace in the face of life’s grim difficulties like death. To the world, that joy is mysterious, suspicious and even regarded as a form of denial. But for the soul attached to its Creator, that joy is one of the most real things you can ever experience. People hope that things will give them that, especially money. I heard a joke that went like this: money can’t buy you happiness, but everyone wants to find out for themselves.
Everyone generally views money in majorly one of four ways: security, power, love or freedom.
- People who view money as security perceive it as a shield against ills of discomfort, especially the ones that can be mitigated. Such people have no trouble saving cash and applying for health insurance.
- People who view money as power acknowledge its capacity to influence people to do things, whether by paying them or bribing them. Such people have no trouble paying extra cash to receive good customer service.
- People who view money as love perceive it as means to express affection through giving and receiving. Such people often buy expensive gifts for their loved ones on special occasions.
- People who view money as freedom perceive it as an increase in one’s volitional power so as not to be limited by choice. Such people love having a variety of options to choose from before making a purchase.
None of these views is superior to the other and none is sinful in itself. However, the views become sinful when we make them ultimate views. The views become sinful when we believe that through the fulfilment of these views we will get everlasting happiness. When we believe that without money we cannot have security, power, love or freedom, then we have fallen prey to its deception. We have made money an idol, a god, an identity. And a false one at that, I must say. And Beloved, false gods always plunge men into ruin and destruction after draining them of all their energy. That is why Jesus warned us that you cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13). You will love one and hate the other. The more you read the Bible, the more you realise that money decisions are spiritual decisions. People who gamble fall into the deception that money will give them ultimate security, power, love or freedom that their spirits thirst for. Here is the scripture to demonstrate that.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (NLT)
Let us examine your friend’s challenging question. He says “Where in the Bible does it say that gambling and betting is wrong?” This question reminds me of Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (ESV)
Examine how Eve was deceived. In verse one, the serpent begins with a premise that is based on his own words, not God’s words. He says to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” That question is craftily worded. It does not seek godliness; it seeks worldliness. The serpent begins in the negative to challenge the evident inaction to the forbidden fruit. He does not state what God offers. He begins by challenging what God does NOT offer. But look at what God offers. Genesis 2:16-17 shows a stark difference between God’s words and the serpent’s twist. It says: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
God begins by making an offer to life. Then he demonstrates that the counter offer is death and he warns against it. However, the enemy begins by challenging the counter offer as opposed to highlighting the good that you already have. In my ministry, I hear many young people flirt with the counter offer. Does the Bible really say I can’t go out clubbing? Does the Bible really say gambling is wrong? These questions take an antithetical position and seem to agree with what God is saying, but I have come to see that just like in Eve’s case they are not. Like Eve, the ones that ask questions like these have already taken their eyes off the original offer of God. They are not focusing on what God gives but rather on what he warns against. They forget Genesis 2:16-17 and only see Genesis 3:1.
God offers mankind the genuine gift but the enemy questions the antithesis and offers a counterfeit gift. Genesis 3:1 on sex would probably sound like this: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not make out with your boyfriend?” Genesis 3:1 on money would probably sound like this: “Where in the Bible does it say that gambling is wrong?” The question looks innocent but it has shifted the premise. And like Eve, you ensue in a discussion based on what God hasn’t said instead on what he has said. And if you know what he HAS said you will know that the forbidden tree is a trap. Timothy Keller once said “We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.” The serpent’s question in Genesis 3:1 is a wrong question. And a wrong question cannot have a right answer. The wrong question’s premise must be debunked so that the right question is asked.
When God’s offer is maintained as the chief premise, we will begin to ask the right questions and temptation’s side-offers will be forced to compare and contrast. The enemy knows that his lacklustre offers are dreary in the backdrop of God’s golden gifts. So his first strategy is to take our eyes off God and focus them on his fading delicacies. And believe me, Beloved, when you take your eyes off the gold, even the poor effulgence of copper will begin to look radiant.
So, Ernest are you saying my friend must focus on working hard to earn money? Yes, he must but it is not enough an incentive for a heart that seeks a shortcut to prosperity. He can only have that kind of biblical focus if his heart is changed by the riches of the Gospel. The Gospel changes everything. Your friend must see that the poverty of his soul cannot be atoned for by the riches of sweepstake money. Your friend must see that false gods like money will demand you to serve them at the expense of impoverishing your soul. But Jesus Christ, the one and true God is the only God who enriched us on that cross by impoverishing his own life to the point of death. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (NIV, 1984). You friend must see that he has been made infinitely rich in ways beyond any betting cheque could cash in. The first Adam failed the test in the garden of Eden by following Eve’s deception and as a result, his disobedience brought us the poverty of death. Jesus is the better Adam who passed the test in the garden of Gethsemane and as a result, his obedience brings us the riches of life.
The enemy’s deception will say, “Forget about this whole God thing. You just keep on betting as long as you’re not hurting anyone.” But remember this, Beloved, Eve wasn’t hurting anyone when she obeyed the serpent. She thought she was gaining the world not realising that God had already given her and Adam the whole world. Gamblers may think themselves to gain the world not realising God has already given us his whole world, his Son Jesus.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36 (KJV)