So I hear the Superbowl is next week. It is also becoming inescapable that the line on the game is Chiefs +2 (spread) or +110 (moneyline). And if you don’t know what those mean, you can probably disregard the rest of this. Because I want to talk about gambling.
Old school Baptists would rail against drink, dancing and gambling. Old school Lutherans would make fun of this because none of those things are directly forbidden in the bible. “Those Baptists, getting all legalistic again.” Of course that stale argument was missing the ministerial context. Why were the Baptist’s railing against these things? Usually because their congregations were having families and lives torn up by people abusing them. Why were the Lutherans so nonchalant about these things? These were not the preferred abuses of the Northern European immigrants who made up Lutheran congregations of the time.
But you might be shocked at what I wrote that gambling is not directly forbidden in the bible. Go ahead, take a minute and look up gambling or betting in your bible index. Look up wager for good measure. You won’t find the first two. The single mention of wager is the same incident recorded in two places (2 Kings 18:23, Isaiah 36:8) of an Assyrian ambassador making fun of the Judean king. “C’mon, bet me” as a taunt. The bible does not directly forbid gambling. That doesn’t mean the bible has nothing to say about it.
It is useful first turning the law. Why might one be betting? The lottery probably offers the simple reason, I’d like to be rich, really really rich. Why is that? Because at a base level I am coveting my neighbor’s business (9th commandment) or just his stuff (10th commandment). And why does it cross from a wholesome desire into coveting? Why is gambling particularly troublesome here? Because I don’t want to work for them. I want to get rich quick at the expense of my neighbor. So the first question about any betting might be, am I doing this because I am coveting a life that is not my own? The paradox here might be that the lottery is more harmful in this than putting $20 on the Chiefs (because let’s be honest, you get Mahomes and points, c’mon?) A $20 on the Chiefs is not changing your life. The reason you buy a lottery ticket is that is most definitely will change it, overnight.
What else might the bible have to say about gambling? It is inarguable that gambling is something that people can get hooked on. There is the simple adrenaline rush of luck. There is the desire to feel like you are part of “the smart money.” It can come with bragging rights. And maybe you are able to manage those things, but maybe your brother can’t. Last week’s lesson on the weaker brother (1 Corinthians 8) might be meaningful. Do you want to be the one who introduces destruction to your brother without even thinking? Yes, you have the right to place a bet, but is it loving in your context?
The last consideration I’d like to mention here is that somehow our governments have become partners in the rapid proliferation of gambling. What started out long ago as state lotteries partly to provide legal outlet to run numbers racket mobsters out of business, has turned into the regulation and promotion of online casinos that are never more than a click away on your phones. The purpose of the government is to provide order and promote the public good (Romans 13). Today, I’d argue that gambling has become the stupid tax. The number of people who slot machine away Social Security checks, or who are encouraged by the state toward greed and destitution is disturbing.
The one biblical mention that gets close is “cast or casting lots”. The Apostle’s themselves cast lots to fill the place of Judas. Aaron is commanded to cast lots over two goats on the day of Atonement. In each case the casting of lots is a seeking after the will of God. The other example comes from the foot of the cross. The soldiers, oblivious to the man dying for their sins, cast lots for his clothes. Most other uses fall in this second category. Like Job chastising his friends that they would “cast lots over the fatherless and bargain over your friend (Job 6:27).” Or the LORD lamenting people standing aloof while enemies “cast lots over my people. (Joel 3:3, Obadiah 1:11)” Is the gambling, which necessarily ties us into the vanity of this world, making us blind to the things of God?
So, sure, place $20 on the Chiefs this weekend. Or on the 49ers if for some reason you want to bet against Mahomes. It isn’t forbidden. Neither is the NCAA tourney pool or any of the other minor pastimes. But, also stop to ask, am I missing something other than the over/under.