Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament departments at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In our last article, when we introduced the subject of gambling, we ended the article by calling attention to the principle of Christian stewardship, within which principle the whole question of gambling must be decided. We noticed that the idea of stewardship was very common in Scripture, but that it is also to be applied to the relationship in which the believer lives to God.
Christian stewardship rests upon the fundamental principle that God is the Creator and Sovereign Owner of the entire creation and of all that is in it. As the Owner of all things, He alone has the prerogative to give of the things of the creation to each man as seems good to Him. We have and possess nothing which we have not received. All is given as a gift.
But the fact that God distributes His good gifts to men according to His own wisdom and purpose does not mean that He relinquishes His own prior claim to all these things. He retains sole ownership of everything, and gives what is His to man in his capacity of steward. Just as a steward in Scripture was placed over all his master’s possessions, while his master retained the right of ownership, so does God distribute the treasures of this creation to men while He remains Owner of all.
This includes everything which we possess: our material possessions, our money, our homes and cars, our bodies even and the health of them, our children. Nothing is exempt. All belongs to God.
Now, just as a steward was called to use his master’s possessions to advance the well-being of his master, so we are called to use everything which God gives us to the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria is not only a fact, but it is also a calling which stands at the heart of all the responsibility of the child of God in the world.
More specifically and concretely that means that every child of God is called to use everything he has to seek the kingdom of God. When Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount admonishes His people to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, Jesus does not mean that such things as the budget of the church and tuition in the Christian schools should stand at the top of the list, so that when we have laid aside money for these things, we have the right to use what is left for our own purposes. The little word “first” does not mean, “first in a long list of things including things which we desire”; it means, “first as a fundamental principle of all our seeking.” With everything that we have as given to us of God, we are called to seek His kingdom. That kingdom is concretely and specifically revealed in this earth in all the work of the church and the cause of the Christian faith. It includes all that belongs to God’s covenant in the world; it includes all that centers in the life of the child of God as He is called to live out of the principle of regeneration by faith.
With everything he possesses, therefore, he is to seek that kingdom. He may not spend a dime of his money or use one single gift which God gives without asking himself whether this is the best way in which he can seek the kingdom of God, and in this way God’s glory.
This is a fundamental and controlling principle of the Christian’s life, in his use of all the things of this creation which God has given him.
But there is another principle in the context of which the whole question of gambling must be considered, a principle which stands closely connected to what we have said about Christian stewardship. That is the principle of the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.”
Negatively, covetousness refers to the sin of wanting something which God has not given to us. We are dissatisfied with the amount of things which we have received of the Lord and we want more or other things. We are discontent with our possessions and think that we should have more than we have, and we set our hearts upon other things and seek to get them into our control.
Now, it ought to be evident that the covetous man is not a good steward. He cannot be. He is covetous only because he wants things for himself. If he were fully conscious of his calling to use all that he has for God’s glory and the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, he would not covet what he does not have. He is covetous only because he sinfully thinks that what he possesses is really his and that he has the right to do with them whatever he wants. He wants more because he wants more for himself, for his pleasure, for the satisfaction of his lusts, for his personal enjoyment, for the power wealth gives, for the greater control he can exercise over his life with greater possessions. If he is truly a good steward, he is not covetous.
Positively, the tenth commandment requires of us contentment. That is, when we truly keep the tenth commandment we are completely satisfied with whatever the Lord has given to us. We want nothing more than God has given us, nor do we want things to be any different from what they are. Our wills are completely in harmony with the will of God for us. We are able to say, with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Or, we heed the admonition of Paul to Timothy: “And having good and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Tim. 6:8).
There is perhaps one more point which we could mention. In his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul tells the church there, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thess. 3:10). Very clearly, God has ordained that we receive what we need in this life by means of working. A man must earn his daily bread. He must expend labor in order to be provided with his daily needs. Never may a man expect “something for nothing.” It is not hard to see how this principle is flaunted today in the market place where countless people expect something for nothing, and live as if the world owes them their living. But this is totally opposed to Scripture’s injunctions.
If we take all these things into account, we can readily see the terrible wrong in any forms of gambling.
There are those forms of gambling where we risk our own money or possessions with the purpose of earning more. Included in this are all forms of betting, all forms of casino gambling, all games played for money where the winner takes the “pot,” all lotteries and raffles which are used by the government, by schools or by churches to raise money. They violate the basic principles of stewardship and make one unfaithful in God’s house. They are what our communion form includes under “gaming,” which sins make one unworthy of the table of the Lord and, unless they are repented of, make one worthy of hell. It is spiritually impossible for a person to ask in humility before God, “Lord, what would you have me do with these possessions you have given me?” and give out these same- possessions to try to get more. Such conduct brings down upon the one who does these things the great wrath of Almighty God Who seeks in all things the glory of His own name.
This same kind of gambling can also be present when one “plays” the stock market. In our day when the economy operates on interest, what the Bible calls “usury,” it is not in itself wrong to put one’s money to work so that one’s money earns money in various types of savings accounts. It is not wrong to invest one’s money in various purchases of stocks and bonds. But when one “plays” the market for purposes of hoping to earn money while greatly risking the loss of his investment, this becomes only another form of gambling which Scripture forbids.
But the same may be said of all kinds of sweepstakes. It is true that one does not risk one’s own money to acquire more money. And, while the Scriptural principle of stewardship does not as such apply, it is true that at the bottom of all this is covetousness. Who can say that he engages in drawings or sweepstakes for any other reason than to get something which he does not possess? Who can honestly before God claim to participate in these things in good conscience when he knows that Scripture frowns on the whole idea of “getting something for nothing?” and that Scripture insists that we must work for what we receive?
I just received in the mail a document which reads, “Important: the enclosed Four Sweepstakes Entry Tickets give you a chance to win the TWO MILLION DOLLAR Grand Prize or any of 21,264 other cash prizes in the Reader’s Digest $2,500,000.00 Sweepstakes. Beat the November 26 Grand Prize deadline, and you could win up to $150,000.00 in BONUS Award cash if you win the Grand Prize. You and your family are also invited to see ABC’s OF NATURE, the family answer book from Reader’s Digest . . . .” The blatant appeal to covetousness and the impossibility of getting involved in such things while escaping the sin of covetousness is obvious.
The same truth holds for all the Radio and TV game shows which give away fabulous prizes. One need not watch these programs very often to witness the disgusting spectacle of covetousness at its worst as reflected in the faces and conduct of those who win and those who lose.
The wrath of God rests upon those who flaunt these principles of Scripture. Christianity Today a short time ago had an editorial in its pages entitled, “Unlucky Lotto.” The first paragraph reads, “In 1976, Erika Earnhart’s number came up. Her lottery number, that is. And with it came $1 million, providing an annual income of $50,000 after taxes. Her heart-breaking story since then includes two divorces, a child-custody dispute, alimony payments, and debts piled on debts. She often borrows from the bank in anticipation of her next lottery check. Had she known the future, she says, ‘I’d have torn up that ticket, or put it in someone else’s name.’ She still plays the lottery, hoping to win and catch up financially.” The same editorial concludes, “More irony. Gambling addiction has mounted in states with legalized gambling while the government is often called on to treat victims. The New Jersey State Lottery Commission has made a $75,000 grant to research the nature of compulsive gambling.”
It is easy to say, “Well, if I would win, I would not be such a fool.” But we forget that the wrath of God rests on those who break His precepts. Paul gives a pertinent word of warning: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim. 6:9, 10). Let us remember Scripture’s words: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”