How Much Risk, Is Too Much Risk?

#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?

Dear Reader, Hello! The question today is: On the scale of silence to loudly forbidden, what does the bible have to say about taking risks with money in form of gambling, online/sports betting, casino/card games and investing in the stock market?

Where money is concerned, the Bible certainly is not silent. Scriptures warn that the wrong approach to money can cost a person his or her salvation (I Timothy 6:10). Even though individuals work and earn money, Bible says God is the ultimate source of all income (Deuteronomy 8:18) and encourages us to ultimately trust in Him, not in get-rich-quick schemes that promise wealth (Philippians 4:19).

Is gambling  a “grey area” for believers?

Yes, the bible is “silent” on gambling but no, it would be wrong to believe it is a grey area. First off, let’s get a clear definition of gambling:

To gamble is to play a game of chance for stakes. And a stake is a prize that is obtained at another gambler’s expense.

“Casting lots”, the ancient version of gambling, was quite common in many old societies. The one-time such gambling is mentioned in the Bible, it was for an evil purpose and it was at Jesus’s crucifixion, where the soldiers cast lots for his clothes (John 19:23-24).

If you’re looking for a “Thus saith the Lord: Thou shalt not gamble,” verse before you decide against gambling, you won’t find it because IT DOES NOT EXIST. Nothing expressly forbids gambling anywhere in Scripture.

Now you’re wondering. If scripture doesn’t forbid it, what’s the problem?

The fact that Scripture does not specifically forbid something, doesn’t mean it cannot provide us with a number of principles that guide us on the issue. Without directly mentioning gambling, scripture discusses the thinking that leads to gambling. For example, God says it is wrong to covet or be greedy (Exodus 20:17, Colossians 3:5, I Timothy 3:3) and these two sins are often at the root of what causes a person to gamble.

We ought to be good stewards of all we have (Luke 12:42), which means we should manage our resources to the best of our ability. We are to use our resources to provide for our families and advance God’s kingdom. Gambling or sports betting is not good management of money, instead, it puts a person’s money at great risk. There is clearly a spiritual dimension to how we should manage our money.

Many people are addicted to gambling or betting in one form or another. On addictions, scripture says, “A man is a slave to whatever masters him” (II Peter 2:19). We must be subject to the power of God, not enslaved by the power of any substance, including an improper desire for money (I Corinthians 6:12). When you cross the line from using money properly to letting it define how you live your life, money and material possessions become your “god”—an idol! 

Some consider gambling a form entertainment, no different than spending money on other forms of amusement. However, as a believer, godly entertainment should never involve sinful behaviour. Godly entertainment should involve spending disposable income (money you can afford to spend) on something within God’s will that you and/or your family enjoy. By that definition, gambling is clearly not godly entertainment.

The Bible directs us to work for our living, which is the opposite of obtaining money dishonestly or through putting earned resources at unnecessary risk. God’s way of life emphasises giving instead of getting (Ephesians 4:28). Gambling clearly seeks to bypass the process of doing hard work, which God has given to us (through individual abilities and personal training) to become productive members of the body of Christ and society in general.

The argument in favour of risk often goes like this:

“There are risks involved in gambling, but the farmer who spends money to buy seed and plant a field also takes a huge gamble every year. If the weather destroys his crop, he will lose a lot. Risk is a normal part of ALL our lives.

If you have retirement savings in mutual funds, you are taking a risk with that money. You are gambling that the market will rise. If it goes down, you will lose money. Therefore, you put your savings at risk.”

This sounds like a logical argument, but what makes gambling a more dangerous form of risk is the principle that underlies all gambling: for every winner, there are losers. The winner gains at the loser’s expense. When you win a gamble, you are taking what belongs to another person. The winner’s profit always comes directly from the loser’s pocket. In other words, one person’s gain always comes at the price of hurt caused to others. That is the immoral principle which underlies all gambling.

On the other hand, investing in the stock market is not necessarily “gambling”, regardless of the risk is involved. In the stock market, the gains of one investor are not financed by the losses of others. In other words, there are no losers when a stock gains value. In the stock market, the winner’s gain does not come at the loser’s expense. When the stock value increases, the economic pie grows. By contrast, in a gambling contest, the pie is fixed. The prize is a pool of money contributed by the players, it does not have a flexible value.

The farmer in our analogy is taking a calculated risk (if weather or disease destroys the crop, he could lose all he has invested). Such a risk is not technically, a “gamble,” because if the investment pays off, no one loses and real wealth will have been created, unlike in gambling, where no wealth is ever created.

Therefore, assuming risk per se is not gambling. Sure enough, life is full of risk. If the act of taking risks (like buying/selling insurance) were the same as gambling, then you could say that we all gamble every day. And you will often hear advocates of gambling use that exact phrase: life itself is a gamble. 

You take a risk every time you get in an airplane or ride in a car. You would also face risk by staying in bed all day trying to avoid risk. 

Unfortunately, justifying gambling using the life is full of risk argument stems from a faulty understanding of what gambling is in the first place. In gambling, the risk is artificial. On the other hand, the risks we face in daily life are not artificial or fabricated for the sake of winners or losers; after all, who wins when a child is hit by a car? They are real chance events, not games.

In closing, we answer the question how much risk is too much risk, by observing 4 elements:

1. Something valuable is put at risk.

2. Something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize.

3. An element of chance is involved in determining the outcome.

4. No new wealth is created in the process.

— Phil Johnson.

If it meets 2 or more of these elements, then the risk is more than average and one really needs to consider it carefully. As always, the important thing about taking risks with money or any other thing is to search your heart deeply about why you’re gunning for that gain. If it comes from a place of covetousness, greed or pride, then to retrace your steps!

Investing in anything is always a “gamble”, but there are many entrepreneurs today who wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t take that one risk  on “chance” that later paid off. However, believers must realise that “chance” is nothing more than God’s grace working mightily in our lives. We must be driven by the Holy Spirit in our decision making and look only to Him to crown all our efforts with success.


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