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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am / 10:45am service, 2007-01-28

Text: Judges 14:12-20

In recent months one of the hottest topics in Singapore has been the building of two world-class integrated resorts. And by the year 2010 which is only 3 years away they will be fully operational and giving a powerful boost to the tourism industry with about 35,000 new jobs created. For us however, our greatest concern is about the casinos which will undoubtedly become the main attraction of these resorts, and which will definitely have a negative impact on society and on the moral values of our land.

However, there have been certain claims made in recent days that put gambling in a good light. On one website I found the claim that, 'We could see a decrease in medical expenditures to our elderly if the US government would wake up and see that gambling, when operated professionally and with the clients' welfare in mind, can have a positive impact in ways even we never thought of.' Can such claims about gambling be true? In this morning's message we want to look at the subject of gambling in the light of the Holy Scriptures. Let us first consider the question: 

A. What is Gambling?

The most important element in gambling is the taking of risk. In gambling, a person risks his assets on a speculated result, in the hope of getting gains for himself. The word 'gamble' itself is actually derived from the word 'game' (something played just for fun). It comes in so many different forms: playing with 'one-armed bandit' jackpot machines, mahjong, or poker, betting at the racetrack, buying four digits, or even buying lottery, Toto or Singapore Sweep tickets.

Many have been deceived by the world into believing that gambling is just a harmless game or recreation that people enjoy. Contrary to this let us understand that gambling is not merely a game. Unlike most games which are all driven by a harmless desire for plain enjoyment or fun, gambling is driven by two very powerful forces: 

B. Why do People Gamble?

Firstly, it is driven by the thrill of risking one's assets. Whenever a person takes a risk, he knows that he may actually lose something that is valuable to him, and his body responds to that knowledge. Every time a person has to risk his own life, his property or his money, Adrenaline pours into his bloodstream from two little glands that are located just above the kidneys. The greater the risk taken, the more adrenaline floods into his body. This heightens a person's alertness and energy level -his heart beats faster, his blood vessels dilate, and the sugar level in his blood increases. For a while he gets an extra 'wind' to do something that is mentally or physically strenuous. This is known as the body's fight or flight response! It is actually this physiological response of the body to Risk-taking that gives the gambler an exhilarating sensation that is quite similar to taking stimulant drugs. And when this 'high' feeling is combined together with the end result of making very quick substantial gains, the euphoria that gamblers experience is often described as being on 'cloud nine.' As they crave to enjoy more and more of this thrilling cloud nine sensation, they become addicted to gambling! 

Now, the thrill of taking a risk is a very powerful force that drives the gambler to gamble, but it is not as powerful as the other driving force that works in him. This other driving force is covetousness. The desire to get something out of nothing, and to make a 'quick buck' by gambling with one's assets stems from a covetous attitude. To covet is to seek for something that is not in the will of God for us. Every gambler covets two things at the same time: a desired outcome or result, and the material gains that come with it. He covets the desired outcome, in order to obtain his coveted material gains. 

C. Why is Gambling Sinful?

Now, coveteousness is a sin which is condemned by the tenth commandment: 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's.'- Exodus 20:17 This is why gambling is sinful - it violates the 10th commandment. But covetousness is often not the only sin involved in gambling.

The gambler's coveteousness gives rise to other sins as well. It spurs him onward to keep on going after the elusive desired result, until he does not mind transgressing the boundaries of propriety and good judgment just to get it. 

Nothing matters more to him than obtaining what he covets and he may even resort to lying, deception and cheating to get what he wants - e.g. using a marked deck of playing cards, or loaded dice. This is why it is impossible to permit gambling in society, without having to deal with all the undesirable strains and pains that it brings to moral life, spiritual life, married life and family life. 

The world of sports has become notoriously defiled by game-fixing because of heavy betting. Friends who used to laugh together become bitter enemies overnight because of evil schemes to win their bets. This is not new. It happened even in the time of the Judges of Israel. In Judges 14:12-20 we are told that Samson (who was not a good example of a judge of Israel) made a bet with the Philistines for 30 sets of expensive clothings, that they would not be able to guess the answer to his riddle. They took on the bet, but found that the riddle was too hard for them to solve. Since they did not want to lose the bet and pay up, they bullied Samson�s wife into tricking him to reveal the answer. So Samson lost the bet. Such evil scheming still goes on even in organised or legalised gambling today. Christians should have no part in it! 

Every time you see any form of gambling, please try to see how sinful and evil it is by associating it closely with the lots that some Roman soldiers cast for Christ's vesture when He was crucified, as recorded in Matthew 27:35. Let this sinful picture of gambling be permanently etched into your memory whenever you feel drawn to it, to develop a holy aversion to it!

Even to people who have never read the Bible, gambling is recognized as a social evil that has ruined many lives and done irreparable damage to whole families. Recently a local newspaper reported that Russia is presently imposing a ban on casinos in Moscow and other big cities. Why is it doing this? According to the Civil Chamber, 'The destruction of families, crimes against people, theft and robbery, psychological illness, a large number of suicides, especially among adolescents - that's the price Russia is paying every day for the spread, everywhere, of gaming arcades.' Even without having the IRs built yet, gambling is already a social problem here in Singapore: Many people are already hooked, heavily in debt or have become bankrupt because of the widespread habit of gambling. Whenever there are events like the World Cup or English Premier League soccer matches some people will lose all their savings through betting. 

The negative effects of gambling can be summarized in six points, each of them with biblical support: 

D. What are the Effects of Gambling?

1. Firstly, it is very addictive. In the U.S. gambling addicts constitute a higher percentage of the population than alcoholics. The same is probably true here in Singapore judging from the long lines at Singapore Pools Outlets and the large crowds at the Turf Club. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says, 'all things are lawful, but I shall not be brought under the power of any.' 

2. It causes people to lose sight of reality. Gamblers live in a dream world of riches. Hoping for that unreal 'chance of a lifetime' to fall right into their lap. They believe that all their problems will be solved, if they strike it rich. But they are exactly like the Rich Fool in Luke 12:16-21 who foolishly dreamed that he would enjoy the rest of his life in overflowing affluence just because he had a good harvest, but he died on that very night.

3. It makes people believe that good luck rather than hard work is the way to prosperity. It therefore goes against the Protestant work ethic which teaches us to work for a living. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 'For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.'

4. It causes people to become intensely self-centered. Nothing else matters to the gambler except the indescribable thrill of risking his assets to make big gains for himself. It leads to getting, rather than giving as a way of life. Cf. James 4:13 'Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain'

5. It often draws people into a life of dishonesty and sin. Gamblers often resort to borrowing money, cheating, stealing and embezzling funds just to feed their habit. The sins of gamblers tend to grow bigger and bigger. Cf 2 Timothy 3:13 'But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.'

6. It results in families destroyed by poverty. The parent who gambles becomes so caught up with gambling that he is not able to feel for others any more. He gambles late into the night instead of spending time with his family who needs him. He sells off the house and other family securities, and destroys the lives of his loved ones. 1 Timothy 5:8 'But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.'

One can see from the above effects how easily man's sin and depravity is easily expressed wherever any form of gambling is permitted and indulged. In the light of all these, it is clear that Christians should totally abstain from any form of gambling, even if it is legal or for small stakes, or done only occasionally. With this basic understanding of gambling, we can now deal with the next question:

E. Can Any Good Result from Gambling?

Those who ask this question may suggest that gambling is a good way to stimulate the mind. Others may suggest that some studies have shown that playing cards or mahjong is a good way to understand statistics and probability and even to retard Parkinson's disease.

1) Let me begin to answer this by simply asking: How many people have ever become good statisticians through gambling? and How many elderly folks have been spared of suffering Parkinson's disease as a result of gambling? I think that the numbers, if any, are really negligible, when compared with the vast number of lives that have been wrecked and ruined by gambling. 

2) Secondly, even if there are some exceptional people who do understand statistics and probability better or are spared from Parkinson's disease through gambling, what price did they end up paying for it? In addition to having their minds stimulated, they may probably also have acquired a terrible gambling habit that enslaves them. Dear friends, if the process of stimulating your mind also stimulates a covetous spirit within you, then you are paying a very high price for that mental stimulation! Why should you pay such an awful price, when there are many other ways to achieve the same end without it?

3) Thirdly, those who believe that gambling can be beneficial have fallen into a faulty kind reasoning that goes like this: 'It is all right to sin, if it is for the sake of doing something good.' This faulty reasoning is addressed in at least two passages of Scripture: Romans 3:7-8 'For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.' Romans 6:1-2 'What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?'

If we allow ourselves to live by such faulty reasoning to justify gambling, we will end up justifying many other gross sins as well. For example, a person might use the same faulty reasoning to justify lying: 'Telling lies makes people more creative, it is an art, because it takes a lot of ingenuity and skill to make others believe something which is utterly false. Therefore it can be good to tell lies.' That is why people who do this very skillfully are called 'con artists'.

The same faulty reasoning might also be used to justify stealing: 'Stealing is all right when it is to take from the rich and give to the poor who are being exploited by the rich.' (like a 'Robin Hood') Let us learn this important truth: It is never right to do wrong in order to gain the opportunity to do what is right or good.

4) Fourthly, those who make bold claims that gambling is good for you may actually have a hidden agenda. For all we know, the so-called benefits of stimulating the mind, understanding statistics and probability better and retarding Parkinson's disease are just a nice juicy bait, to entice people to gamble. And we must be discerning or else we will be taken in 'hook, line and sinker!' 

Incidentally, there was a recent study done at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden which showed that cigarette smoke can protect you from Parkinson's disease: Reuters reports on a Swedish study that found smoking lowers the risk for Parkinson's disease: The authors found that both current smokers and past smokers were less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than people who had never smoked. The association was stronger in men than in women and the risk of Parkinson's decreased as the number of cigarettes smoked per week increased, the authors note in the Annals of Neurology. 

As to the reason for the association, the researchers note that cigarette smoke may contains chemicals that protect nerve cells from damage. The researchers conjecture that complex interactions between genetic mechanisms and the carcinogens in inhaled smoke may be responsible for the reduced Parkinson's risk.'

Should we then smoke cigarettes if it can lower our risk of having Parkinson's disease? No, because it would at the same time increase our risk of dying of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke many times! Whatever benefits smoking may have are completely offset by all its terrible hazards. It is like taking a new medication that promises to heal your headache, but it has a terrible side effect in 30 % of patients: it will cause stomach ulcers to erupt and you will die of internal bleeding! Would you take such medicine? No, because you do not want to find out if you are one of the unfortunate 30% who will suffer the horrible side effect. You will probably want to look for another medicine that can get rid of your headache without imposing such a risk to yourself. So please don't be fooled by these so-called 'studies.' 

It would be interesting to find out who sponsored these 'studies.' You may discover that they are sponsored by people who have vested interests in the products that are under the study (e.g. tobacco companies that are fearful of losing business because of all the campaigns against smoking). Perhaps the so-called benefits of gambling also developed along the same lines - they may be attempts by casino operators and bookies to boost their business. But all these are really only attempts by the sinful heart of man to justify his own sinful actions.

The next question that some would ask is: 

F. Is There Any Harm in Playing Games like Mahjong and Poker without Gambling?

On the surface it would seem that the answer to this is obviously No. There are no stakes, nothing at all is risked, and so there is no gambling at all. But before you conclude that it is all right to play such games without any stakes, there is something important that you must first consider. And that is the close association that these games have acquired with gambling. E.g. poker, black jack, mahjong - all these have become closely associated with gambling. Anytime others see a group of people indulging in them, they will think or suspect that there is gambling, even when there are no stakes involved at all. That would not be good for our testimony for Christ before the world.

Let us imagine what would happen if a Christian mission school were to start a new CCA - a poker club - and made it a rule that this will only be a sport without any money involved. The purpose - to stimulate the minds of students who are weak in maths. How would such news be received or perceived by the students' parents? Will there be no outcry, reaction or protest? There probably will. Why? Because in the minds of the parents, the school is encouraging a form of gambling even if no money is involved. Once the students become very proficient superskilled poker players, able to win every game because their minds have been so well stimulated by hours and hours of poker-playing, what is to stop the students from exploiting their skill to make big winnings outside school? No matter how well-intended the scheme may be, it will probably not be well-received!

Or let us imagine a Christian home for senior citizens converting one of its big halls into a place where all its patients can receive 'mahjong therapy' everyday so that they may not suffer from Parkinson's disease so soon. How would the donors to this charity respond to this? They would probably complain, 'How can you use our money to build gambling dens for old people?' What would any visitors to the home think when they hear the noise of mahjong tiles echoing through the halls and see all these elderly folk enjoying the game? Let us be careful whenever something that has sinful associations is promoted for some obscure benefit that may be gained from it. Proverbs 14:12 tells us - 'There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.'

The bottom line of today's message is this: There is really no good reason at all for anyone to gamble. Whatever benefits a person may gain out of gambling is offset by the hazards of gambling. And these benefits may be obtained from better sources. There are better ways than gambling to stimulate the mind and retard the onset of Parkinson's disease, and to help us understand statistics and probability better. Please use them, if you need to, instead of using anything that has to do with gambling. 

However, all these benefits that people look for are merely temporal benefits. They have no eternal value. God has made us to strive for better things - things that are above, things that are eternal. God has made us for the noble purpose of glorifying Him and to enjoy Him forever! And therefore in order to do this we must lay aside every weight and every besetting sin! And that includes gambling. 

If you have been openly or secretly indulging in gambling, God commands you this day to repent of it and lay it aside. He takes every sin in your life seriously, including this one. If you have been trying to give up this sin, but have never had any success, please listen to this: Without first being saved through trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can never succeed. Jesus alone can wash away all your sins, and change you from within. Jesus alone can deliver you from your slavery to sin and even your slavery to a gambling addiction. And so if you have not yet come to Jesus for salvation, come to Him right now.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25