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What does the Bible say about playing the lottery?

Question: “What does the Bible say about playing the lottery?”

Answer: The word gamble means “to risk something of value on an outcome that depends on chance.” Because the outcome of a lottery “depends on chance” and playing it involves “risk,” then, by definition, playing the lottery is gambling.

The Bible has no examples of a lottery, but it does contain instances of gambling: Samson’s wager in Judges 14:12 and the soldiers’ gambling over Jesus’ garments in Mark 15:24. In neither case is gambling presented in a good light. The Bible also mentions the casting of lots for the purpose of decision making (Joshua 18:10; Nehemiah 10:34). And Proverbs 16:33 emphasizes the sovereignty of God: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” But the biblical purpose of casting lots was not to test one’s luck or to gain material wealth.

The main purpose of playing the lottery is to win money, and the Bible tells us what our attitude toward money should be. So often, riches get in the way of a man’s spiritual benefit (Mark 4:19; 10:25). Jesus teaches, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). First Timothy 6:10 is where we find the famous warning that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Playing the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme is statistically futile, and it focuses the lottery player on the temporary riches of this world (see Proverbs 23:5). The fact is, God wants people to earn their money honestly by working hard: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We ought to gain wealth through diligence, as a gift from the Lord: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4).

Gamblers, including players of the lottery, typically covet money and the things that money can buy. God forbids covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17; see also 1 Timothy 6:10). One of the world’s lies is that money is the answer to life’s problems. People are lured into playing the lottery with promises that their lives will improve if they can only hit the jackpot. If they can just get lucky with the numbers, their problems will disappear. Such hopes are empty (see Ecclesiastes 5:10–15).

So, we would do well to be cautious about playing the lottery. There are many better uses for the money spent on a ticket, and we must guard our hearts against covetousness and our lives against addictions to gaming. Buying a lottery ticket here and there may not be a sin, but greed is. Those playing the lottery must prayerfully examine their motives and, if they continue playing, do so responsibly and only in moderation.

What does the Bible say about playing the lottery? Should a Christian play lottery tickets, lotto, Powerball, Mega Millions, etc.?

Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery

John Piper

Trembling at Sin, Marveling at Grace

God Is Not Stingy with Mercy

Martin Luther King and His Partner in the Cause

Faith That Satisfies — and Saves

Are You Amazed You Are a Christian?

Is an Audio Bible Sufficient for Devotions?

John Piper

Trembling at Sin, Marveling at Grace

God Is Not Stingy with Mercy

Martin Luther King and His Partner in the Cause

Faith That Satisfies — and Saves

Are You Amazed You Are a Christian?

Is an Audio Bible Sufficient for Devotions?

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Americans now spend more than $70 billion dollars annually on lotteries. That’s more than the combined spending on books, video games, and movie and sporting-event tickets. Lotteries are legal in 43 states.

“That’s more than $230 for every man, woman, and child in those states — or $300 for each adult,” reports The Atlantic.

“Christ does not build his church on the backs of the poor.”

I agree with the report that this is a great shame on our nation. From time to time, the Powerball or Mega Millions lotteries rise to unusually high numbers and get fresh attention in the news.

Here are seven reasons, among others, I have often rehearsed to make the case that you should not gamble with your money in this way.

1. It is spiritually suicidal.

“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. . . . Some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).

2. It is a kind of embezzlement.

Managers don’t gamble with their Master’s money. All you have belongs to God. All of it. Faithful trustees may not gamble with a trust fund. They have no right. The parable of the talents says Jesus will take account of how we handled his money. They went and worked (Matthew 25:16–17). That is how we seek to provide for ourselves (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; Ephesians 4:28).

3. It is a fool’s errand.

The odds of winning are nearly 176 million-to-one. You take real money and buy with it a chance. That chance is so infinitesimally small that the dollar is virtually lost. 175,999,999 times. The smaller amounts paid out more often are like a fog to keep you from seeing what is happening.

4. The system is built on the necessity of most people losing.

According to the International Business Times, lotteries are “just another form of gambling (without any of the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas, of course). The ‘house’ controls the action, the players will all eventually lose.”

5. It preys on the poor.

The lottery supports and encourages “yet another corrosive addiction that preys upon the greed and hopeless dreams of those trapped in poverty. . . . The Consumerist suggested that poor people in the U.S. — those earning $13,000 or less — spend an astounding 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets . . . making this ‘harmless’ game a ‘deeply regressive tax’” (ibid).

6. There is a better alternative.

“Managers don’t gamble with their Master’s money. All you have belongs to God.”

A survey by Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association revealed that one-fifth (21 percent) of people surveyed thought the lottery was a practical way to accumulate wealth. We are teaching people to be fools.

If the $500 a year that on average all American households throw away on the lottery were invested in an index fund each year for 20 years, each family would have $24,000. Not maybe. Really. And the taxes on these earnings would not only support government services, but would be built on sound and sustainable habits of economic life.

7. For the sake of quick money, government is undermining the virtue without which it cannot survive.

A government that raises money by encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses of its citizens escapes that democratic mechanism of accountability. As important, state-sponsored gambling undercuts the civic virtue upon which democratic governance depends. (First Things, Sept., 1991, 12)

So, if you win, don’t give from your lottery winnings to our ministry. Christ does not build his church on the backs of the poor. Pray that Christ’s people will be so satisfied in him that they will be freed from the greed that makes us crave to get rich.

Note: John Piper was assisted by Desiring God staff in gathering the statistics for this article.

Here are seven reasons, among others, I have often rehearsed to make the case that you should not gamble with your money by playing the lottery. ]]>