Urim and Thummim
What should be covered by the word ‘Gambling’?
Would God use a gambling method to provide for His people?
Can the believer have the odd gamble?
Nature Of Life
Winners and Losers
As one who used to be a Betting Office Manager in my ‘old life’ and with first hand experience both of placing bets and of watching the characters who put bets on, I’m probably as qualified as any to make some brief comments on the subject of Gambling.
However, the main source from which any of us should seek to gain an understanding of any human phenomenon is the Scriptures. It always surprises me that believers think that a Bible Teacher must always have the ‘experience’ in order to effectively teach what the Bible has to say or what God wants - if we were to take that as a standard that we would unbendingly apply in each and every situation, we could only accept preachers and counsellors who have or who have once had AIDS, who have practiced homosexuality, who have slept around with as many men and women as they could, have robbed men and women repeatedly and so on.
But experience - although something that YHWH can use to enhance the teaching - is not necessary to teach what God has to say on a matter. Otherwise we would surely long since have discounted Jesus’ words on both marriage and children, and observed cuttingly that, because He was the one Man who knew no sin (II Cor 5:21), He was unqualified to teach us about any matter that concerns it.
So, although I have experience, the basis of our comments must be the Bible.
I should also point out - as I previously did in my explanation of how I became a believer - that conversion did not compel or force me to have to resign from my employment of being a Betting Office manager, even though my conscience troubled me. I knew inside that such an occupation seemed incompatible with being a believer but I was unsure just what I should do.
As I wrote on the web page (with some alterations):
Being zealous for the Lord, I wanted to leave [the Betting Office] sometime during September/October of ‘82 and I remained convinced that I should just hand my notice in and allow God to look after me ‘by faith’. My mother wasn’t at all convinced, though, and I had a rather heated discussion with her at the end of which I went up to my bedroom, prayed and said to God
‘Come on, tell me I can leave’
then opened the Bible and put my finger on the pages. I wouldn’t recommend this to you at home to try but I was very young in the faith and didn’t know much about the will and ways of God! The line that my finger fell on was a verse from Isaiah which simply read
‘Believers will not be in haste’
It wasn’t that the verse could be applied to my situation - but that it hit me like a sledge hammer right between the eyes and I felt weak. In the light of that, I decided not to leave and found myself at peace with the job (even though the leadership of the church seemed not to be).
During either ‘83 or ‘84 (I can’t remember which), there was the ‘Mission to London’ with Luis Palau - my betting office was probably the only shop that had stickers all around it proclaiming ‘Come to QPR to hear Luis Palau’! I was possibly the first christian bookie in human history, but I was able to witness to the Lord before people who might never have heard that there was anything on - even though my witness was far from perfect.
I continued to study the Bible and attend what meetings I could and became a joint youth leader by ‘84 at the insistence of the youth leader who had always supported me against the decisions of the main leadership of the church.
But, one day, I went in to work and was hit by the question
‘What am I doing here anymore?’
I chatted it over with my mum that evening - well, actually, that’s not a correct statement. I really only told her what I was about to do. The following morning I handed my resignation in much to the amazement of my superiors - I don’t think they’d ever had a reason given that matched mine.
‘It’s incompatible with me being a christian’
‘But don’t you have a job to go to?’
‘Why don’t you stay until you get another job?’
‘Because I must leave now’
Must’ve been pretty weird for them to comprehend - but even that would have served as a witness that there were more important things in life than having paid employment.
I think it was August that I left - in September I was travelling round England working for a christian organisation.
Anyway, that was my employment sorted out.
I have known believers who have had the odd gamble on the horses on a Saturday, some who have had a gamble once a year on the Grand National (a British tradition), but the vast majority have shunned gambling (that is, anything to do with what goes on inside a Betting Office, along with buying lottery tickets, scratch cards, raffles and so on) insisting that it’s a culpable sin but without being able to find a specific line of Scripture that forbids it (I picked up my old Thompson Chain Reference Bible this morning to see if the author had been able to put together a subject point commenting on the matter but it was somewhat conspicuous by its absence).
A NT Scripture is frighteningly contradictory to a ‘no gambling’ position because Peter suggests to the apostles and disciples that they should ‘draw lots’ to determine who among themselves was to take the position of the vacated ministry of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). And it gets worse! ‘They’ (which can only mean that the believers present were of one mind) asked God to take part in their action by causing the right person to be selected.
We might, then, propose that gambling is only alright if God takes part in it along with us - that is, when the outcome of the matter is guaranteed to us by Him so that we’re not so much gambling on a likelihood but resting securely on a certainty. The only trouble with this position is that God never says that He’ll take part in the drawing of lots and those present assume that He will do.
Was this trust or presumption, then?
For that reason, some believers have refused to accept that the disciples in Acts Chapter 1 did what was right in God’s eyes, going on to insist that Paul was really the new ‘twelfth apostle’ and that they should’ve waited for God’s timing in the matter.
Whatever the exact truth (and it seems to me to be able to be called whichever way supports your own pet doctrine of gambling by adding or assuming little bits that aren‘t there in the text), the real ‘facts’ of the matter are that the disciples did draw lots (that is, they took a chance that their actions would bring about a provision for the Kingdom - that is, they gambled), they saw nothing wrong with it (indeed, they used some OT Scriptures to justify the course of action they were planning) and they even invited God to use it to bring about the purpose of His will!
The casting of lots is by no means unusual in Scripture and it appears to have been a way that men and women decided upon matters - whether in a purely random manner when they couldn’t make up their own mind or with an appeal to a higher power who would so arrange the drawing of the lots that the deity’s will would be done as a result of the decision arrived at.
Although there’s nothing specifically stated in the procedures commanded surrounding the Day of Atonement (Leviticus Chapter 16), it would be difficult to imagine the drawing of lots over the two goats (that represented the one offering for sin - see my notes here) as being anything other than an appeal to YHWH to select the one He chose for each purpose (Lev 16:8-10).
And, again, when it came to the apportioning of the land between the twelve tribes in Canaan, the drawing of lots was used to determine who got what (Num 26:55). Wenham (‘Numbers’ by Gordon J Wenham in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series, published by Inter-Varsity Press) notes here that
‘The use of the lot to determine the distribution of land is attested in the Near East from pre-Mosaic to modern times’
so that we wouldn’t be going too far if we saw God’s command through Moses not as something new that He was instituting but a method they were already familiar with that He was using to bring about the purpose of His own will (the Medes and Persians clearly used the ‘lot‘ method to determine favourable times at which to act - Esther 3:7, 9:24. The sailors on board ship with Jonah also drew lots to determine on whose account the trouble had come - Jonah 1:7). The lots were drawn in Joshua Chapter 15 onwards and it’s not insignificant that the land that had yet to be conquered and apportioned is spoken of as having lots cast for it (Joshua 18:10 - my italics)
‘…in Shiloh before YHWH…’
(see also Joshua 18:6,8). That is, lots were cast with the understanding that YHWH would control the outcome. This is backed up by Pr 16:33 that instructs us that
‘The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from YHWH’
and Prov 18:18 comments that
‘The lot puts an end to disputes and decides between powerful contenders’
because both parties are willing to let the decision be in the hand of One who’s called upon in the drawing to determine the outcome. Put another way for the sake of our own godless society, we could render it
‘An independent third party should be petitioned to decide upon a matter when two people can’t come to an amicable agreement’
but, in ancient time, that third party was always a Deity, an unseen hand, who was assumed would manipulate the lot to bring about what was fitting and just.
Having said this, we must also note Num 26:56 (and Num 33:54) which commands that
‘[The children of Israel’s] inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller’
That is, a large inheritance of land was to be given to a large tribe. Both considerations seem to have been incorporated into the apportioning of the land - the casting of lots to determine the will of YHWH but the logic of not allowing a small tribe to echo around a place far too big for them.
Before we look at the specific use of ‘Urim and Thummim’, there are a few other places in the OT where the drawing of lots are used to determine matters and I mention them here only briefly. That some of these were religious matters means that it’s not beyond the possibility that the Urim and Thummim method was used (especially the determination of the Temple service where the High Priest would have been present) but, unless it states it specifically, we can’t be certain.
Judges 20:9-11 echoes the Scripture that speaks about Israel going out to battle according to lot. Here, though, the idea is that a certain proportion of soldiers were to be taken by lot from each of the twelve tribes to make up a united army of Israel to go up to fight against Gibeah. I Sam 10:20-21 sees Samuel the prophet using lots to show the Israelites who the first king of Israel was to be. Samuel already knew who God‘s chosen was (I Sam 9:27-10:1) so the method employed seems to have been solely for the benefit of the Israelites.
I Chronicles Chapter 24 sees the Jews drawing lots for the division of the labour in the Temple amongst the descendants of Aaron when there was a disproportionate amount of descendants from one line over another. Chapter 25 sees lots being taken for the singers and 26:12-19 sees lots being taken for the gatekeepers. Luke 1:9 shows us that lots continued to be used during the first century in the Temple (or, perhaps more accurately, just before the start of it).
When the Jews returned to the land, lots were cast to determine who would bring the wood offering to the Temple (Neh 10:34) and who were to be compelled to live in Jerusalem (Neh 11:1).
Figuratively, the word used for the lot (Strongs Hebrew Number 1486) was also employed when no actual ‘lot’ had been taken to signify the ‘fate’ of a person or people. So David talks about YHWH holding his fate in His hands when he writes (Ps 16:5) that
‘YHWH is my chosen portion and my cup; Thou holdest my lot’
the prophets also speaking about the ‘lot’ that’s given to peoples where the assumption is made (if not specifically stated) that the determination is from YHWH (Is 7:14, 57:6, Jer 13:25) as if He’s sat down to draw lots (see Is 34:17 where such phraseology is directly used). Simply, it’s using contemporary language to make the point that there is One far more powerful who determines the fate of individuals and peoples.
Lots are cast specifically as a method of gambling in Prov 22:18 (fulfilled in Mtw 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34 and John 19:24) where a quantity of items are being apportioned out. The same idea of gambling seems to be underlying the observation of Job 6:27, Joel 3:3, Obadiah 11 and Nah 3:10. All these are used in an originally negative sense as being something distasteful.
Finally, the word can also be used for self-determination (Prov 1:14) where ‘sinners‘ try to entice men to
‘Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse’
where the fate of the corporate group is shared out to the individual.
Urim and Thummim
One of the ways that YHWH had provided for His will to be known was in the drawing of the Urim and the Thummim - a phrase that still remains a mystery to us, although the idea seems to be that they were some sort of stones or precious jewels that were kept in the Breastpiece of Judgment that the High Priest wore (Ex 28:30) and drawn out when a yes/no question was needing to be answered.
The example given to us is laid down in Num 27:21 where, speaking of Moses’ successor, it’s written that
‘…he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before YHWH; at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation’
When we read of God commanding the Israelites to go out and attack a city or people (Joshua 8:1-9), the detailed discourse we have about the way to attack may have been the result of a series of questions put to the High Priest who drew the Urim and Thummim out from the Breastpiece. If this is the case, it must have taken a great deal of time to be sure as to what the details of the attack would be, but the logical inference from the commands in the Mosaic Law are just that (however we may baulk at the likelihood of the matter).
The Israelites saw it not as an uncertain gamble but as way to determine the will of God.
The Urim and Thummim method of drawing lots was also used by others to determine matters - for example, by Saul (I Sam 14:41) and David (I Sam 30:7-8 - the Urim and Thummim are never mentioned here but it‘s the High Priest who‘s enquired of and it has something to do with the ephod that brings about God‘s will in the matter).
It’s also interesting to note that Saul found there to be a time when God refused to give him a certain answer by the drawing of the lots (I Sam 28:6) so we may not be going too far to speculate that an answer given to a yes/no answer was asked again at least once to make sure the same answer was received and, therefore, that it was YHWH who was guiding the drawing hand of the High Priest (see also Ezra 2:63 and Neh 7:65 where the returning exiles used the drawing of lots to determine the will of God in matters that they were uncertain about).
Whether it’s simply the mention of the drawing of lots independent of any other considerations, the determination of a course of action where God is assumed to be present or the specific matter of the Urim and Thummim, it’s plain that the ancients used lots to decide on matters.
It became somewhat of a gamble, of course.
Did you believe that God would step in and look after your rights? Did you trust the person who you were drawing lots against not to manipulate the process? And what if the lottery gave you something that you were unwilling to accept? Did you go and do what you had planned to do regardless which, if you’d called God to determine the outcome, would be to go against the assumed will of God for you?
The drawing of lots, therefore, was a calculated gamble for the determination of a matter or a course of action.
But, if we are to be as faithful to the testimony of Scripture as we can, the principle for the believer is neither that ‘Gambling’ is right nor wrong but that, if a person is sure that God is in control of an event that has an outcome that is unknown to them, there is no condemnation for them to step out in faith and to rely on the result being the answer determined by God.
This is much more than claiming the way that situations around us transpire is ‘the will of God’ (to use a phrase that’s often heard in our society and which stands for the humanistic statement that ‘whatever will be, will be’) regardless of whether God really is in the matter or not. The principle requires that the individual be sure that God is in a matter and for them to be certain that whatever the answer to their problem, question or situation will be the solution that has come direct from the presence of God.
This doesn’t mean that the answer will be what the individual wanted but that it will be accepted as being God’s will.
We often think about gambling in the context of monetary gain - and indeed we can. But we have already seen above that gambling through the drawing of lots was used to determine God’s provision in a man who was needed to advance the Kingdom of God through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:15-26).
We shall look primarily at financial provision here and, even when the Scriptures make no specific mention of ‘money’ (the concept of money is a modern one, btw, where hoards of gold are offset against little pieces of paper and coins of metal that represent the valuable metal that‘s protected elsewhere), our minds may well stray onto such matters - our society seems to be so entrenched in the intrinsic value of the pound or the dollar that we forget that they don’t actually have any real worth.
When Worksop was cut off by blizzards when we lived there back in the eighties, men and women discovered just how worthless such pieces of paper and metal were when they waved increasing amounts in front of sales assistants to buy something from them that didn’t exist in the shops because the stock had run out and supply was cut off.
They may have been able to barter with people who owned the objects they required, but their money was worthless - it had lost all considered value.
So, as we deal with God’s provision, we mustn’t lose sight of the all-encompassing nature of this subject and how it applies to each and every area of need in an individual’s and group’s life.
Probably the most important Scripture that helps us determine a believer’s position on the subject of gambling is Gen 22:14 that sits almost as a conclusion to the story of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, at the command of YHWH to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah where the Temple was to be built centuries later. The text (my italics) relates to us that
‘…Abraham called the name of that place “YHWH will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of YHWH it shall be provided”…’
the use of which is paralleled in Ps 84:7 (my italics) which comments at the conclusion of a prophetic passage concerning the cross and resurrection that
‘…the God of gods will be seen in Zion’
The words italicised are a poor representation of a Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 7200, M2095) that’s difficult to translate in an economy of words (as translators are wont to try) for there isn’t just PRO-vision indicated in the word but PRE-vision - that is, in order for God to ‘come up with the goods’, He must be operating in His omniscience to see the need ahead of time and to provide for it.
The Hebrew word primarily gives the concept of vision - that is, something or someone is seeing - but the secondary meaning which is developed from this insight is provision and it’s difficult to understand either one or the other having to stand alone without a dependency upon the other. When it’s used of God with the sense of provision being given to man, there’s a foreknowledge that’s being employed that brings about the realisation of what’s needed.
In the case of Gen 22:14, that pre-vision was that the outcome of Abraham’s freewill was that he wouldn’t be unwilling to sacrifice his son as an offering and, therefore, to cause a ram to get caught in a thicket as a substitute for his son (Gen 22:13) - the pro-vision. Abraham isn’t simply saying that God saw His need and provided for it but that He knew what that need was to be ahead of time and took steps to have the provision ready at the split second that it was required.
In Ps 84:7, the meaning would be better given that
‘the God of gods will see the need [for the transforming influence to occur] and provide for that need in His people [Zion]...’
by the way of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension (see here under Section 3ii entitled ‘Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah’ for a full treatment of the passage and how it relates to Jesus‘ words in the Temple).
When we take this and apply it to the subject of drawing lots and of gambling in general, we must see that a provision of need is simply (!) the result of God foreseeing the situation that’s to arise and taking steps beforehand to meet it. So, if we take Acts 1:15-26 as our example, we could say that God had already provided a replacement for Judas Iscariot before lots were drawn (by making him ready and able at that time to stand in his place) and that the selection process was simply the way God made His provision known.
Our eyes, therefore, are taken away from the method that was employed by His followers and thrown onto God’s action in making someone available to fill the need. The truth is, they could’ve used any method they deemed to be acceptable to God but in the end they chose the convenience of drawing lots that had to give an answer.
The problem, however, was that, if God was not with them, they were going to appoint a person to leadership regardless of his suitability. That’s the problem with all forms of gambling, of course - if God isn’t in the process, the result is never likely to be a true reflection of the will of God.
Sometimes, the trouble is that we see a need that we think must be met but God sees no such thing - so our request fails to be answered. Then we can go and try to meet the need ourselves and, although we may do just that, we fail to experience the anointing that comes through God’s will being done.
I hate to say it, but the need to have appointed leadership has often been a stumbling block to the Church for, when leaders move on, outside leaders are often sought rather than believers looking within the fellowship to see if God has provided amongst His own (and as you would expect Him to do!). It would be extremely unusual in the context of the NT for God to allow a fellowship to continue if He didn’t intend raising men and women up to meet its needs - but many of our fellowships do stumble on ineffectively because we‘ve chosen a method of choosing a new leader that will give us someone regardless when God isn‘t in the method.
Financial provision can also fall nicely into this slot. Do we need money? Then, although we may try to win ‘the big one’ each week, why do we never succeed? Either the method is not the way God has chosen to meet our need or else God sees no such need and isn’t going to do what we require of Him.
We very often expect God to get in step with the way we call a matter, forgetting that, in Christ, it’s us who have to get in step with God. Sometimes, the lack of a provision that we perceive is actually an opportunity for us to be changed to be more like Jesus in the situation - receiving deliverance in the situation and not out of the situation.
Our Western mindset sees poverty (or, lack of financial provision) as a curse from God while wealth is evidence of the possessor being God’s special son - we often forget that being poor is a great opportunity for the rich to make themselves poor in order that the poor become rich, in the same way as Jesus chose to make Himself poor on earth that by His death and resurrection, mankind might also lay hold of the treasures of God.
What should be covered by the word ‘Gambling’?
I’ve been asked on a few occasions why I don’t play the lottery regularly and my reply is that I want God to give me the numbers first - I’d have no trouble with my conscience if God gave me the right numbers for the week’s draw (but I’d certainly need some specific details to tell me just what I was supposed to do with all the money).
I have no trouble believing that God could provide for me in this way - but I do have difficulty accepting that I should try and provide for myself in a similar manner. Of course, the word ‘gambling’ is a strange one and one could equally use the label for trading on the stock exchange or taking a risk with investments in banks and building societies even though it normally means going into a Betting Office and putting a bet on a horse, greyhound, soccer match and so on.
The point in all these things, though, is who’s being looked to as Provider - and being responsible for the money that’s committed into our hands. I would have to think carefully about the normal attitude that would frown upon a person who puts a one pound bet annually on the Grand National but which sees nothing wrong in wasting hundreds on ‘keeping up with fashion’ or of getting the latest technological advances when what is owned is perfectly adequate.
Indeed, leaving addiction aside for a moment (I’ll deal with this subject below), what’s the difference between a believer spending a one-off £5 on an afternoon’s entertainment on horse racing (for example, on the annual Grand National Saturday) while another believer spends £30 to go to a ‘once a season’ football match because they‘ve got through to the semi-final of the FA Cup?
Personally, I see no real difference - except that financing the latter is more of a drain on a person’s resources and the former is not culturally acceptable in the Church. Both these fall into the area of ‘Entertainment’, something that the Bible is fairly silent on but which we’ve elevated into a major need of Western men and women.
Suggest to a believer that they should consider not having a holiday but, rather, they should invest the money that would’ve been spent on it on advancing the message of the Gospel and many of the old clichés will come out - ‘God knows that I need a break’, ‘God doesn’t mind that we spend that money on ourselves’ and ‘It’s only a bit of fun’. The same men and women will look down their noses on someone who has a £5 bet on the Grand National once a year but who can’t afford to go away on holiday - but it’s obvious who’s withholding the greatest amount of money from the proclamation of the Gospel.
And believers also love to decategorise specific forms of gambling that they take part in while condemning those who participate in those ways that they’re free from.
In the UK, many believers were faced with a choice of mortgage when they came to buy a house - either a straight Repayment or a more complicated Endowment policy. The former simply paid back the interest and capital borrowed over a fixed period so that, at the end of the time period (often 20-25 years), the entire debt was paid off. Endowment agreements were a whole lot more of a problem for the borrower only paid off the interest that accrued on the loan - in addition, an investment was made that would, it was hoped, earn interest so that, at the end of the period of the loan, the pay out would be substantially more than the money borrowed, allowing the borrower to pay off the lump sum and have a sizeable amount of money left.
It was a pure gamble, of course, for there were no guarantees - and, in recent years, these Endowment policies have been returning amounts that are substantially less than the amount of the loan. But many believers jumped into Endowment agreements with both feet, thinking that it was an ideal way to make a substantial amount of money very easily. And many of these people would condemn the annual £5 bet but justify their own multi-thousand pound gamble.
It could also be levelled at the Repayment mortgage that it’s a gamble that the borrower will have the provision to make the repayments each month for the next 25 years!
In like manner, the storage of monetary resources is open to risk - one may feel that a bank is ‘as safe as houses’ but there are investment opportunities in the form of higher interest rate accounts that, because of their very nature, represent a substantially increased risk of losing one’s investment and of tying one‘s money up so that it can‘t be easily and quickly used in doing God‘s will. It wasn’t too long ago that the occasional Building Society went bankrupt with those people who were storing their money with them losing everything in the crash.
But the risks were known - leaving financial provision with any institution or firm is a calculated gamble and one that’s accepted as being risk taking (although it has a better record of a return that putting money on a horse race!).
And we could go on to list Stock Trading or Business Investments in one’s own company - the point is that believers think nothing of gambling in some fairly major ways but then refuse to accept that their condemnation of gambling in others actually encompasses their own actions.
Would God use a gambling method to provide for His people?
The evidence of Acts 1:15-26 that we discussed above would already give us the answer ‘yes’ to this question. There’s no escaping the fact that God allows His followers to use chance to determine what His will is for their lives and that He’s even willing to take part in the process and manipulate the method so that His will is done.
It doesn’t mean that, if a believer gambles, the outcome is necessarily God’s will (the same as using the methodology of the laying on of hands doesn’t guarantee a person being healed) but that God doesn’t find it a problem to work within a gambling format to bring about His will.
I’ve also heard it said by believers that God would never use a worldly source or means in order to bring provision to His people - that is, the Lottery belongs to secular, unsaved society and He won’t take that money and hand it over to the saved by giving them the six winning numbers of the weekly draw (if someone was to win the lottery, therefore, it would either have to be the result of random chance or the work of satan).
But God did provide for His people by despoiling their and His enemies (for example, in the flight from Egypt - Ex 12:35-36 - and in the provision for Jacob against Laban - Gen 31:1-13) - so the argument that God would never provide for His people through the provision of, for example, your local bookie or the National Lottery is clearly against Scripture.
God will choose whichever method He deems appropriate in order to meet the need of His people.
Can the believer have the odd gamble?
Even though we’ve dealt with so many different aspects above, the answer to this question is by no means an easy one to give because we’ve identified ‘Gambling’ in a few areas that have formerly been off-limits to the classification.
To name one, the mortgage (where a large sum is borrowed over an extensive time period to purchase a house) seems to be an integral part of Britain’s culture and a necessary part of securing accommodation in today’s society. But some leaders preach from the pulpit that believers should never be in debt if they have faith, the inference being that debtors aren’t in God’s will and are sometimes roundly condemned as lacking faith! These same preachers have either taken mortgages out or, because they’re given a church-owned Manse to live in, have never needed to earn a real living and make provision to have a roof over their heads (am I cynical or what?).
The underlying concern here, though, could be taken to be ‘need’. Is there a need for a believer to take a calculated risk with financial resources or material possessions? And does that risk hinder the advance of the Kingdom of God or give a foundation from which it can be encouraged?
Personally, I would argue that a mortgage should give provision for the Gospel to be advanced because it generally provides a secure place from which the lost of the area can be reached. Certainly, without a house, I could never have found time to provide teaching notes for the Church. Others may have a different opinion, of course.
But the areas that are normally condemned within the Church are those that take place in Betting Offices the length and breadth of the country, on race courses, in newsagents where they sell National Lottery tickets and scratch cards and even at work in sweepstakes and raffles.
There are two, perhaps three, considerations to be made in order to decide on these cases.
The first will need many to define their own concept of the word ‘Entertainment’ and how it applies to the believer. There’s no doubt that the subject has become a large one within Western Society where we no longer struggle to survive and have free time on our hands that we want to fill up with ‘things to do’.
Just how far should a believer go in his seeking out of ‘Entertainment’ to pass the time? If a believer does have spare time on his hands but doesn’t have anything specific that comes to mind to do with regard the Gospel, should he be allowed to invest resources to dispel the boredom?
I have my own answer on the matter and don’t intend sharing it here, but the reader will already have understood some of my gripes above as I’ve dealt with certain issues. Consistency is called for in this matter, and a person who condemns a one-off day out at the races that costs £150 should equally condemn a one-off day out at a football match that costs the same (I use these two examples because they’re both well known to me and the prices I cite I can affirm as being accurate when travel, food, entrance fees, the purchase of programs are all added in).
It depends entirely how much one thinks personal resources can be used for personal entertainment that should give us the answer to the question and not the nature of either one (there are types of entertainment, of course, that are specifically spoken against in the Bible and these must always be avoided).
In the first example of the day out at the races, the assumption is made that no attempt has been made to get God to provide - it’s simply an experience and a break from the mundane nature of a person’s life.
But, when it comes to gambling to make money for provision, there are two questions to be asked - and both are simply different sides of the same coin.
Is God in it? Or is it our own chosen way to make more money?
Acts 1:15-26 testified to the willingness of God to take part in chance - where the outcome (if God wasn’t present) would have been the appointment of the wrong man as one of the twelve. That was quite some gamble - it could’ve destroyed the advance of the Gospel.
But God appears to have been in it.
In the same way, is God in any type of mortgage? Is He in the loan you want to take out to buy a new car or to do a house improvement? If He is, there’s no risk involved - if He isn’t, the successful completion of the loan doesn’t prove it was God’s will.
And what of the Lottery ticket you want to buy? Or the horse you want to bet on? Is this a way God will provide for you or is it a way that you’re trying to provide for yourself because you’re not satisfied with the resources you have? To this question, the Scriptures comment clearly.
When asked by the Roman Soldiers what they were to do to please God, John the Baptist (Luke 3:14 - my italics) answered them that they were to
‘Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages’
This idea of being satisfied with the lot that’s been given to you by God is made plain by Paul (Phil 4:11) who observed that he refused to
‘…complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content’
and the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 13:5) went on to command his readers and listeners to
‘Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have…’
Finally, Paul, talking about being content with what meagre resources were made available and noting that he would be content with ‘food and clothing’ (I Tim 6:6-10), went on to observe and warn Timothy that
‘…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is [a] root of all [kinds of evil]; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs’
Paul’s warning here is to be heeded as the bottom line when it comes to gambling. Is our desire to gamble simply an outworking of our craving to have more? Are we discontented with what we have so we try and make more for ourselves through means that God has not chosen to provide for us?
And, to put it into an a specific example, did we take out an Endowment mortgage rather than a simple Repayment because we thought we’d make money by our own shrewdness? If we did, the problem is not that we gambled but that we have a love of money that needs dealing with - or else it will be the root from which ‘all kinds of evil’ will spring and choke the implanted seed of the Word of the Gospel.
So, in summary, when it comes to finding something to be entertained with, gambling is not a problem (so long as it’s infrequent and doesn’t put in jeopardy the resource for the preaching of the Gospel). But, when it comes to using gambling as a means of provision, it can only be justified in God’s eyes if it’s His chosen way to give provision to His people (and you kind of know if it is His provision cos it usually works!)
Nature Of Life
Although far from a perfect definition, my own idea of what should be discussed as what takes place in Gambling is this:
The commitment of personal time and/or resources in order for there to be an outcome that is favourable to the person investing the time and/or resources.
The main reason why 'Gambling' isn't forbidden in the Law or by a clear inference in the Scriptures is because it's a characteristic that's been sown into the very fabric of the created order and of man's existence in the world.
That will come as a shock to most readers and will be tantamount to me saying that God likes the odd gamble - that, because Creation reflects His nature, God is being labelled a Gambler and, therefore, expects His children to take after Him. It would be a charge that wouldn't stop until it pointed out that men and women are sinners and, therefore, God must be a Sinner Himself!
But we should consider carefully not only the plight of mankind but of the experience of the Natural World.
When a sparrow needs food, it decides where it thinks the best place is to find some - it gambles on a place and, usually, that means our bird table. It could choose one of many locations and, if Summer or if it has young ones to feed, it will probably shun our table and head somewhere that it thinks it may find softer food.
But its choices are, nevertheless, a gamble. It may get it wrong and go hungry - if it gets it consistently wrong it will starve to death. Generally speaking, though, they tend to get it right.
Similarly, when it has an option of half a dozen trees and bushes in which to roost overnight, it chooses one that it decides will be the safest and takes the chance based on its assessment of each option. That, too, is a gamble and one that, if it gets it wrong, will see a predator gain access to the roost and eat it.
Men and women also have those choices to make in life - although most of mankind's decisions in the West are based upon monetary considerations.
Parents will decide which area they consider to be the safest for their children - whether by a comparison of Crime Rates, the presence of a major road outside their front door where three year old Johnny will wander on to when they leave him unsupervised or even by recourse to a register of convicted paedophiles. In the end, it's a gamble based upon the available evidence that will cause them to choose one location over another.
Choosing a school for their children is also a choice made from considerations, a gamble of circumstance and fact. Changing employers gambles on the new company having better prospects than the previous but, should that be miscalculated, redundancy can result with a loss of earnings and, ultimately, a repossession of the home if payments cannot be continued on a mortgage.
The mortgage itself is a gamble based upon the reliability of funds to meet the monthly repayments over the course of a long period of time. Depositing money in banks and investment plans are based upon the chosen company being careful not to become bankrupt and to refuse to reimburse its investors with their finance (something that men and women in the West are only beginning to make a prime consideration following a period of recession).
Even marriage and relationships are a gamble based on the evidence available. Does a person trust their neighbour not to use the spare key that's been left with them to come into their house while away and steal their possessions? Do we trust our friends not to repeat our heartfelt confessions to people who would do us harm or embarrass us?
Even a believer's faith in the sufficiency of the cross, resurrection and ascension is a gamble for the believer has decided where their trust lies and is, hopefully, putting their time and resources behind that belief in its outworking both in and through them. If we're wrong, our lives are lost - if we're right, the return on our investment is unbelievably good.
Life is a gamble, then, its nature has been sown into the fabric of the created order.
Therefore, Jesus is not ashamed to speak of His return in a parable that has, at its heart, investment, risk and gambling (Mtw 25:14-30). The element of risk isn't present in this parable and the expectation that investment will always bring an increase or that bank deposits necessarily produce a reward where the capital is safe, is a necessary assumption so that the parable can yield a simple truth necessary to Jesus' purpose.
However, that Jesus uses an example from the world of investment and risk shows that He isn't afraid to draw from life examples that have something to say to the believer about the Kingdom.
It does not, of course, justify gambling and shouldn't be made to do so, but it does show us that using one's resources to achieve an increase is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a believer and that there are types of gambling, investment and risk (call it what you will) that are a necessary part of the follower of Christ's life.
'Gambling' must never be thought of in narrow terms that justify parts of our lives while condemning the trait in others. Rather, we must realise that 'Life is Gambling', that in order to live, we must gamble on a daily basis.
It's the nature of the gambling that we take part in, the reason behind our actions and the justified or unnecessary risk involved that determines whether we should be taking part in it. Therefore, there can be no hard and fast law in the Church that Gambling is wrong and culpable for, if there was, no person on earth could ever stand before God with clean hands and a pure heart.
That some people get addicted to gambling is beyond question. Whether it’s to excessive betting beyond their means or to the repetitive small bet, the point is still the same - gambling can be a stumbling block that destroys men and women.
In that sense, it’s just like many other experiences in both believers’ and non-believers’ lives - sex and alcohol are both good servants but make bad masters and many people have become enslaved to either and both. But these perennial objects of stumbling aren’t the be-all-and-end-all that many make them out to be.
Some believers are enslaved to one denomination, undermining the ‘salvation’ of others by their strict traditional adherence to the doctrines of the men of their own particular sect. Still others find themselves enslaved to have to run after every ‘big speaker’ who holds a meeting close by or to go forward at every appeal that’s made in anticipation of receiving in prayer something that they never do.
Addiction is certainly a subject that needs treatment on its own but, like gambling, we often stop short of naming our own particular addiction in our list of ‘sins’ while condemning some that we see in others that we’ve managed to steer clear of.
Many have sought to ban the temptation to sin (that is, prohibition) rather than to see that the real need is for men and women to be changed within by the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth (conversion) but, if possible, the removal of the temptation for the believer, is necessary if there’s still a weakness that might be exploited by a lack of self-control.
Paul isn’t condemnatory of the weak brother who stumbles through something that isn’t in itself a sin, but he is angry that a strong brother who participates in it makes shipwreck of the faith of others by their own tastes and choices (Romans 14:1-15:7 - see my notes here).
In that way, everything we do must be looked at from a different perspective - not just gambling.
Therefore, it’s much better that a believer stays well clear of gambling than to find either that they stumble another believer into an addiction or that they get entangled themselves in wasting resources that are better invested in advancing the Kingdom (but, there again, we could equally well apply this paragraph to taking holidays!).
I have made conclusions throughout this brief consideration of the subject of ‘Gambling’ and I don’t intend repeating them here. But as the Bible gives examples in its pages of when God allowed Himself to be ‘in the gamble’ to declare His will to His people, we would do better than to condemn the matter out of hand..
'Winners and Losers' (632K)
A series of articles about the Betting Industry and Horse Racing with spiritual application and explanation. We have now abridged this work for reasons explained in the second Introduction but the full version can be obtained from us via email. We subtitled the work 'Are you addicted to religion?'