Is the Lottery a Sin?

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

[Editor: This is a revised posting to correct the harsh legalism of the original text which might have suggested that anyone who ever bought a lottery ticket stood condemned. Please accept our apologies.]

Is it a sin for a Christian to play the lottery? After all, the Apostles cast lots to determine the betrayer’s replacement (Acts 1:21-26). The men who sailed with Jonah on their fateful voyage cast lots to determine who was responsible for the evil that had befallen them (Jonah 1:7). Lots were cast under the Old Covenant to divide the land (Numbers 26:55), and choose Temple officials (1 Chronicles 24:5). Casting lots was a customary method for determining God’s will and purpose.

Casting lots was used in the Bible for both good and bad. Haman cast Pur (or lots) to determine the day on which the Jews throughout the land would be killed (Esther 3:7). The Roman soldiers cast lots for possession of Christ’s robe (Matthew 27:35).

The lottery is a game of lot. Is there any good reason to play? Maybe you have a financial need or outstanding debt. We must be careful to place our trust in God — not money.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Christ declared that you cannot serve both God and mammon (Gr mamōna) — a Syriac name for the god of wealth.

A brother said that God revealed the winning lottery numbers to him in a dream. I questioned whether God gave him the winning numbers, or if the dream was simply a subconscious thought. Though the LORD can instruct us through dreams, He will tempt no one to do evil (James 1:13). We must examine our hearts to understand His purpose.

Certainly, the lottery preys on the suffering of those who can least afford to play. Households below the poverty level spend 9% of their income on lottery tickets. Lotteries exploit the anguish of the poor to escape poverty while burdening them with essentially a regressive tax.

I was in line at a convenience store behind a neighbor who was cashing in a winning lottery ticket. He had just checked his balance at the in-store ATM, and was lamenting that he had a negative balance in his bank account. My thought was that he would cash in his winning ticket, and go deposit the funds into his account. But, no, he bought beer and more lottery tickets with his “winnings”.

We don’t want to be too legalistic on this matter as we have heard people say, “I play the lottery out of need — not greed.” Consider Paul’s instruction to the assembly at Corinth:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Co 6:12). 

Who is your master? Understand that needing something is not a sin. In that circumstance we exhort you to heed the instruction of King David to cast your cares, or burdens upon the LORD (Psalm 55:22).

The lottery appeals to the desire of millions of people who want to strike it rich. The Bible teaches that he who chases fantasies, or follows worthless pursuits will end up in poverty; and those who are eager for quick riches will not go unpunished (Proverbs 28:19-20).

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9).

We might also consider our faithful stewardship. The money we have belongs to God. He entrusts us to spend it wisely. Covering a negative bank balance is more responsible than buying beer and lottery tickets.

The fundamental concept of the lottery denies the Biblical work ethic ordained by God (Genesis 3:17). A man is to labor all the days of his life, but the lottery is a materialistic enticement to get-rich-quick. It is difficult to preach this message in the church because Thou Shalt Not Gamble is nowhere written in stone, but neither is Thou Shalt Not View Pornography though we can infer the latter from the words of our Lord (Matthew 5:28). As well, we can learn from scripture that playing the lottery might reflect greed — not need.

Agur asked that the LORD would provide only his daily portion lest by his riches he might deny his dependence upon God (Proverbs 30:8). We must understand this Jewish concept of provision. (Cross reference: Luke 12:15Hebrews 13:5.) Paul clarifies this in the New Testament where he writes that we shall be content with our food and clothing; and warns against those whose love of money have caused them to wander from the faith (1 Timothy 6:8).

Jesus said that our Father who is in Heaven knows that we have daily needs, but we are not to pursue these things as do the pagans (Matthew 6:31-32). We are to seek not after riches, but after righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

From the Complete Jewish Bible — Wealth gotten by worthless means dwindles away, but he who amasses it by hard work will increase it (Proverbs 13:11). 

If you don’t spend the milk money then buying an occasional ticket should not be an issue unless it causes a brother with a gambling problem to stumble (1 Co 8:13), or becomes an addiction. Our prayer is that we might be faithful stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Suggested Reading: Got Questions?

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