After we published our second playoff roundtable episode for the year, I received a question via email from a listener.
Would you consider friendly wagers of $5–10 sinful?
I think this is a question worth answering, and I’ll attempt to do it with brevity rather than an in-depth analysis.
Does Context Matter?
My initial response is that context matters. By saying this, I am revealing that I do not find any wager at all to be inherently sinful. I would not say context matters regarding many things that are sins. But to make a blanket prohibition against wagering $5 or $10 on a game with your coworker would be inappropriate for me to do because I don’t see scripture doing it.
At the same time, I think that gambling can be a VERY bad idea and utterly sinful. The point is that in some actions, it is our heart that determines if we are sinning or not. This means that two different people can engage in the same outward action and one can be in sin and the other not. See the meat sacrificed to idols passage in 1 Cor 8 for more.
Additionally, we ought always to consider our actions—whether we eat or we drink, do our actions glorify God? (1 Cor 10:31)
But let me lead off with this: Don’t Gamble. If you never gamble a day in your life, you won’t miss out on anything and you may save yourself some heartache. I recommend this article from The Atlantic as required reading for anyone who thinks they want to gamble or even have friendly wagers. Seriously, read the whole thing and THEN decide if what you are doing is harmless. — https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/12/losing-it-all/505814/
Having made that clear, let’s dig into the nuances of wagers/gambling a little and see what God’s Word tells us.
How to Decide Whether That Wager Glorifies God
I’d say that context that matters. Wagering or betting isn’t inherently sinful. When wagering is wrong, it’s not that wagering itself is wrong, but there are a few factors that show where the sin lies.
1. Am I violating the principle that God wants us to work for our food? (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
There’s a difference between saying to your buddy, “Hey, I’ll buy you lunch if your team wins and you buy me lunch if my team wins,” and risking money you can’t afford to lose just to try to gain some security. So a small bet for fun just “to make it interesting” is different from trying to “get rich quick,” for lack of a better phrase. Make sense?
If you play one on one with someone and the loser has to buy lunch, is that really “gambling” in the sense that most of us know that gambling is dangerous and sinful? Is this something that will be addictive and destructive? Is it different if the loser buys lunch or gives the winner cash? I think we can start to see how, if you agree that wagers are not inherently sinful, minor wagers are difficult to call sin.
2. Am I being greedy or covetous?
God told us that we should not covet anything that is our neighbor’s in the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 20:17 — You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Ask yourself when you consider wagering if you are honestly loving your neighbor. Many gambling games are zero-sum, meaning that someone is losing if someone else is winning. So there is a sense that you are coveting what’s not currently yours when you gamble, and you are hoping to get it.
So when my friend wagers five or ten dollars on a game at work, I tend to think it’s just for fun and not bankrupting anyone. I don’t know for sure, but it doesn’t sound covetous or greedy for easy gain. He’s not quitting his job if he wins or losing his house if he doesn’t.
So try to honestly ask yourself if you are greedy or covetous regularly and particularly watch for that if you consider any type of gambling games or wagering.
3. Am I seeking thrill or comfort outside of Christ?
Some people gamble for the rush and it’s probably not healthy even if it’s not properly “sin.” We all need recreation and relaxation at times. I think we can enjoy the thrill of a roller coaster or the enjoyment of a concerto without sinning, so I can’t say seeking some escape from the norm is in and of itself sinful. But if you are a Christian, are you really resting in Christ as your primary comfort?
And we all need rest. But God provides that to us in prescribed ways like the gathering of the saints on the Christian Sabbath (Sunday, the Lord’s Day). I’d expect that someone who is doing any type of wagering or gambling games, to show he is glorifying God, would be able to show sufficiently that his mind is focused on Christ regularly. I’d expect that the time spent on Christ and His Word should be greater than time spent concerned about the next wager. In fact, I’d hope that it’s really minimal, however that’s defined for each servant of God.
4. Does it control me or do I control it? Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 6:12 — “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
There is a principle when dealing with issues of conscience where our focus is not proper. We are focused on the “yeah, but it’s not sin,” while Paul would have us strive for purity which might mean avoiding allowable things for the sake of self-discipline even. Ultimately, can you honestly say you are not controlled by gambling or wagering?
Can you stop anytime? Would you if someone asked you to? How important is this thing to you? Important enough to offend the brethren or risk friendships?
5. Will it cause someone else to sin?
This is the one where I would recommend you be the most cautious. What is only a five-dollar bet to you could be a trigger to someone with less self-control to gamble more, leading them to destruction and away from Christ.
You should be very concerned with how other Christians could be affected by your behavior and what you teach. That’s why I started this blog post with the admonition, “Don’t Gamble.” I am afraid that my opinions about gambling may be used by someone as a license to partake rather than a warning to avoid or be very cautious.
6. Is it good stewardship of the money God gave me?
It’s rarely good stewardship to gamble. But in the example given above, it’s probably less than most of you would spend on dinner, so I get that argument. I’ve heard people who like gambling comparing it to going to a movie for entertainment. They figured “if I spent less money than I would’ve on a movie and popcorn and dinner and enjoyed myself there’s no harm.” I think there could be more to it (like 5 and 2 above and loving our neighbors) but I see the logic there.
But just because gambling losses may not be a worse use of your money than other potential uses doesn’t make it good stewardship. It might just mean you are a bad steward in other ways and also in your own imagination. I can think of several things you can do with 5–10 dollars that are better uses than buying a raffle ticket.
- Take a look at the missionaries your church supports and send one of them a gift. For many, the little amount you see as a negligible gambling loss would make a big difference, while encouraging them as well
- Give a gift to your own pastor. Again, what seems like a small amount to you may be just what he needs and will boost his spirits.
- Talk to the deacons of your church and ask them if there are any needs you can donate to. Good deacons will know of material needs you are unaware of in your own local body.
- Consider this list of evangelists and preachers and missionaries that you can support with even small donations. — https://michaelcoughlin.net/stimulus/
Don’t Roll the Dice with Your Spiritual Life
Look, I may not have convinced you not to gamble, and I imagine there are some who will read this and think I’m too loose and should have drawn a harder line about gambling. But the point is that you have a life that God has given you commands to obey and your focus should be on those things. If at the end of a week, your method of unwinding is watching a ballgame and you have to buy your buddy lunch if one of the teams scores more than the other, I can’t tell you that’s sin.
But you are the one who will stand or fall before your Lord, and I hope you take that seriously. Use the checklist above to help you consider your life and whether the choices you are making in this area are leading you toward Christ or away from Christ.
For further reading, see Grace to You’s Five Reasons Why Gambling is Wrong