Each of us have questions when it comes to our faith in God. These questions address different issues and thoughts we all have.
Sometimes, these questions deal with understanding a specific text of Scripture. For instance, what do all the metaphors in Revelation mean? Other questions are more complex, such as why are there so many denominations with various understandings of Christ? Then there are questions that are formed out of deep pain, such as does God still love me when I do something wrong?
Questions are not a bad thing. They come out of our struggles and our faith in Christ. Many Christians have this belief that asking a question about God is not allowed. To ask a question about God is wrong, we believe, because it shows we have doubts. We somehow believe that doubts are evidence of a personal weakness in our faith. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is nothing wrong with questions or doubts.
Allow me to illustrate this through the story of Thomas. Thomas has a bad reputation and has been given the nickname “Doubting.” This wasn’t a name given to him by Jesus. It is a name we gave him. We gave it to Thomas out of our own awkwardness with admitting that we struggle with faith and have questions about what it means to follow Christ. Thomas admitted his struggles, which were the same struggles many of the Disciples had. When Thomas admitted he had doubts and questions, it provided an opportunity to for him to experience Christ’s truth and love in a deep way. This produces a deeper faith and relationship.
Questions provide opportunities to experience the living presence of Christ. This is our hope for the next five weeks. In September, we will answer our questions about what it means to follow Christ. These are your questions. They come out of our struggles, frustrations, and doubts. Most importantly, they come out of our desire to grow in Christ’s likeness. We are going to work through these questions with truthfulness, humility, and with grace.
These questions are not easy. They will challenge each of us. We may be uncomfortable asking some of these questions. As well, we might have never thought about bringing these before God. Hear me when I say this: The church is a safe place to ask these questions. Together, we will seek to understand what God’s desires are in these questions.
We begin with a question that has been controversial in Kentucky. The question is this: Is gambling a sin?
Recent legislative sessions in Frankfort have focused on gambling. Currently, Kentucky allows gambling on horse racing and the lottery. The discussions have focused on whether to allow casino gambling in the state. Some believe casinos would protect the horse racing industry. This position argues that gambling is not a moral wrong, but that it is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment and economic development.
Perhaps this is why gambling is so prevalent today throughout our state and nation. It is safe to assume many of us have participated in some type of gambling, such as betting on a horse race, playing the lottery, or throwing money at a sporting event. Surveys show that only a third of the nation sees anything wrong with gambling. So, is gambling a sin?
To answer this question, we cannot depend on the world for an answer. The world argues from an economic perspective. Gambling, it says, creates new jobs. That kind of response is no help to us. As with any issue, we must prayerfully examine Scripture to seek God’s desire. Scripture must be our authority for answering this and any question of faith.
Our question, this morning, is difficult to answer. This is because Scripture does not provide an easy response. The Bible does not directly deal with modern gambling. Several passages detail the ancient practice of casting lots. However, casting lots is not gambling. Casting lots was seen as an impartial way of discerning God’s desires regarding a certain question.
How can we answer this question? Just because Scripture doesn’t directly address modern gambling does not mean we are unable to answer it. When Scripture does not explicitly address an issue, we have to discern the greater issues involved, examine Scripture, and come to a consensus on how we can answer our question. Since gambling is a moral issue, we have to focus on what Scripture tells us about morality and holiness. It is through this lens where we see that gambling is not aligned with God’s character and holiness. Gambling is a sin.
Gambling is counter to God’s desires on several levels. First, gambling is motivated by a desire of riches and a big payday. It is based on greed. We play the lottery in hopes of becoming a millionaire. We place our $2 bet on that “lucky” horse in order to hit the trifecta that will pay the mortgage. Even if we claim we gamble for fun at its root is a deep desire for easy money and big riches.
There is a problem here. Jesus addresses it in the Sermon on the Mount. Beginning with Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus says we should not be worried about accumulating riches, because riches fade away. It’s not permanent. As you have probably heard others say, you cannot take your riches with you when you die. However, we act like it by this deep desire and thirst for more than what we already have.
Jesus tells us to refrain from greed, which is one of the deadly sins. Greed comes from a desire for more money. It is wanting more of something than we have. Gambling is a way to fulfill our greed. When we are defined by greed, money and finances becomes our god. It is what we serve. It controls everything about us. Instead of being someone who seeks after the kingdom of God, we become someone who is more interested in fulfilling our own needs and desires. Greed will destroy us and our faith.
Gambling is also a moral wrong, because it keeps us from caring for the poor. It takes advantage of those who have little. Some of the most vulnerable among us gamble as a way to experience the “good life.” Gambling becomes an easy way to fulfill the “American Dream” of a nice home, two cars, a college education, and a nice retirement fund. For the poor, playing the lottery is the quickest way to receive what others have.
I saw this in my own family. I grew up in an extremely poor family. My mom and grandparents played the lottery. Every Wednesday and Saturday, they would spend money on lottery tickets. Each week they would rip up tickets that failed to get them into the “promised land” of riches. Had my family invested the money they spent on the lottery we might not have been “rich,” but we might have had enough money to pay for our education.
Gambling abuses the poor by “stealing” their limited finances through a government-sponsored endeavor that promotes a big payday few ever receive. By doing this, gambling fosters the class warfare that exists today. Lotteries, casinos, and other gambling ventures remind people of the lifestyle that they do not have, but desperately want for their families. Gambling places a carrot in front of those who are financially struggling. In reaching for this carrot, the poor are further trapped in a lifestyle of economic and financial frustration. Instead of “doing what is good” by promoting economic justice through helping the poor through enhanced job training, education, and other financial assistance, we run to what is wrong by telling the poor that gambling is the way to the good life.
Finally, gambling is a moral wrong because it takes away our trust of God. When we gamble, we make a public statement that says God will not provide for our basic needs. By gambling, we doubt God would provide what we need for the day. This attitude says we are the provider of what we have. It is a perspective that forgets that God is the giver of our gifts. This includes our finances. We are called to be stewards of that gift. Proverbs 11:28 addresses this. It says, “trust in your money and down you go.” When we trust in our own hands or finances more than God, it hinders our faith and ability to connect fully with God.
Money becomes our god and we become the messenger of that god’s provisions. The god of money will let us down. The god of money will fail us, because it fails in every one of its promises to provide for what we need and when we need it. Only God’s promises never fail us. Only God’s provisions are true and holy. We must trust God will provide what we need. We should live in accordance to the words of the Lord’s Prayer when we ask for God to give us what we need. Let us not say these words in vain, but in a deep trust and hope that God knows our need and will provide as we need.
Once again, we return to our question for this morning. Is gambling a sin? While Scripture does not address it directly, it is clear that gambling is wrong. It is a sin. It is a deep and serious issue for followers of Christ to partake in. Let us not be known as people who say that gambling does not hurt anyone and is not a big issue for Christians, when clearly gambling harms families, promotes that money is our god, and makes us distrustful of God. Let us not be people who say it’s all for fun, because there is nothing fun about an enterprise that promotes something it cannot fulfill.
Instead, let us be people who desperately seek after the riches of God, who thirst for righteousness, and who desire to trust in God’s provisions. Let us be people who are not defined by what the world says is right, but what God says is righteous and holy.