August 14, 2011
All Bets Are Off – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Proverbs 12:11

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The series That Makes Good Sense teaches from the book of Proverbs on the essential nature of godly wisdom to live life well. The series reminds believers that wisdom is about choosing to live rightly, righteously, and timely so that God is honored in all areas of life.

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I invite you to take your Bible as we come this evening to conclude our series in the book of Proverbs and to pick up where we left off this morning in a message I’ve entitled All Bets Are Off. I believe by principle and by pattern, the word of God addresses itself to the contemporary social issue of gambling. I believe that the word of God would have us not gamble, would encourage our society not to promote others to gamble and I want to come back and consider that tonight. Proverbs 12:11, “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread but he who follows frivolity,” or that could be translated chases fantasies, “is devoid of understanding.” If trends are to be trusted and if trends point to what is happening among us as a nation, the sad fact is tonight that America is betting its future on gambling.
America is betting its future on gambling. That’s true at an individual level. According to surveyors by 1974, 61% of Americans were wagering more than $47 billion annually. 15 years later those figures were up 71% and $246 billion respectively. By 1995, the figures had soared to 95% participation at an annual outlay of $500 billion. America is betting its future on gambling. Recent figures say that on the Nevada slot machines alone, people spend $5 billion every year. 92 million American households visit casinos each year and 10% of total American wages is thrown away annually in gambling. America is betting its future on gambling. That’s true at an individual level and sadly it’s true at a state level. Over the last 10 years, state legislators have relaxed the laws on gambling. They have put on ballot proposals to bring casinos to their major cities. Politicians are turning advice into an economic virtue.
Rather than teaching social and personal responsibility, politicians of both parties have sought to cash in on the gambling craze with contributions from casinos and tax revenue from state lotteries and more. In fact, in terms of contributions, my research tells me that alone in recent years, the Republicans have taken $6.1 million and the Democrats $7.6 million from gambling interests both at a state and a national level. There is no party clean on this issue. Here is a servant of God according to Romans 13, who has been established for the good of society, for the promotion of law and order. It is the government’s job to encourage people to social and personal responsibility, but here our government at a state and national level is encouraging irresponsibility. As far as state lotteries are concerned, they are simply a political scam. This learn and earn deal is a political scam, let alone a social injustice to further tax people, especially the poor, so that politicians don’t have to do the hard work of fixing their failed policies.
It’s unconscionable to me that on the one hand, government officials both at a national and a state level encourage the giving of welfare benefits and tax breaks to the poor by means of taxing the wealthier people of our country, the most productive, who invest their wealth in the good of our economy’s stability. To tax them them to give to the poor, yet at the same time, endorsing lotteries which take a greater toll on the poor that have the net effect of increased debt among the poor, devaluing work among those who need to work, harming marital and family unity in tough districts in our city, it’s unconscionable. Under the one hand we want to take money from the rich to give to the poor, as if that’s the right thing to do. Yet the same government that advocates the righteousness of that wants to put lotteries and casinos within reach of the poor, further pushing them into debt, undercutting their work ethic and undermining family and social strength and life. But that’s where we are at.
The social and economic benefits of gambling touted by politicians are very much [inaudible 00:05:42]. Listen to these words from Kerby Anderson. He says this, “The crime rate in gambling communities is nearly double the national average. Researchers calculate that for every dollar the state receives in gambling revenues, it costs the state at least $3 in increased social costs for criminal justice and social welfare.” But tonight, unless things change, America is betting its future on gambling. By the way, just as a little historical footnote to this and to bring some perspective, America’s had a love and hate affair with gambling. Did you know that in 1776 the first Continental Congress sold lottery tickets to finance the revolution? Did you know that President Washington himself bought the first lottery ticket to build a new capital called Federal City? We renamed it Washington DC. That city was built with lottery tickets.
That’s interesting that Washington should do that when he is known for this famous quote, “Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.” In fact, between 1790 and 1850, 24 of the 33 states sponsored government run lotteries which were used to build roads, canals, bridges. In fact, lotteries were employed by more than 50 colleges, 300 lower schools, 200 churches, along with individuals and private charities. During the period of June 10th to July 2nd 1776, Thomas Jefferson kept notes of his black [inaudible 00:07:40] cards and Lotto winnings and losses even while he was writing the Declaration of Independence. In fact, later, the Virginia legislator authorized Jefferson to conduct a lottery for his own private gain after his years in the presidency left him in dire financial stress. The lottery never happened because he died before he had a chance to implement it. We’ve kind of had a love and hate affair.
There was a great period when lottery stopped, gambling was seen as a bad thing. Now we are seeing it back in the front burner of political and social thinking. Americans see it as a great recreational and leisure activity. Well, how are we to view gambling? Well, we started to look this morning at six principles that seem to underscore the thought that God sees no good in gambling. And the word of God by principle and by pattern would seem to encourage the Christian not to get involved in gambling for money or to get involved in games of chance that might result in financial loss. Remember what we said about gambling. We gave a few definitions. I’ll give you that definition again that I put together. Gambling is an unnecessary risk with money that is not ours ultimately in games of chance for the purpose of bettering ourselves at the expense of our neighbor. And we saw two principles this morning that seem to work against the whole thought of gambling. We looked at providence and prudence.
Providence argues against gambling. Gambling is underwritten by the whole idea of luck and chance and people are excited about that. People yield themselves to the thrill of that. People with money, sometimes life savings in the hope that luck will indeed be in their favor. But the whole idea of luck we saw is something that’s antithetical to the idea of a sovereign God and a purposeful creation. Gambling is not a harmless pastime, it is an affront to our sovereign God who orders all things after the purpose and council of his own will. And we saw in the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 65 that God condemned Israel for offering sacrifices to the gods of good luck and bad luck, God and many. It seems to us that the providence argues against gambling. We saw secondly that prudence argues against gambling. When you consider the odds, gambling makes no sense.
A wise man will not flitter away his money foolishly at the card table or the roulette wheel. Prudence argues against such activity. In fact, the book of Proverbs reminds us that God wants us to live skillfully and successfully and that comes through discernment between what is right and what is wrong, what is foolish and what is wise. Two paths are set before us in this book, and the prudent walk one and the simpleton walks another. And when you consider the trap that gambling is, the irresponsibility attached to it in terms of the odds of winning, prudence argues against gambling. But thirdly, we want to consider now what I call possession argues against gambling or possessions argue against gambling. Gambling is wrong thirdly because it questions cause ownership of our possessions. The Bible presents the stewardship of material things as a crucial issue of discipleship. The Christian understands that God is the owner and the giver of all things. There’s no such a thing as fate.
There is a sovereign God who parcels out his goodness and mercy to us individually. And the Christian understands that and understands therefore that throughout life they are a recipient of God’s grace and by implication, they must act as a trustworthy trustee of what God has entrusted to them. We see this principle in the book of Proverbs. In fact, we spent the whole message looking at wisdom and material management. Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your possessions.” There’s my word. Providence argues against gambling. Prudence argues against gambling. And possessions argue against gambling. Our wealth, our wherewithal has been given to us by God that we might manage his grace and his goodness in a way that honors him, that meets our needs and is used in a way that helps others who are in need.
In essence, we are money managers. That’s why we’re told here in Proverbs 3:9-10 that that which God has given to us we must give back to him so that we may know his continued blessing. We manage that which God has given to us for our benefit and for his. We do not live with a sense of entitlement. We do live with a sense of eternity and the fact that what God has given to us, we ourselves must use in a way that honors him. We are accountable for how we spend our money, therefore we must not spend it foolishly. Gambling is foolish by anybody’s standard. The chances of winning are minuscule. As we said this morning, it’s nothing like investing in a company. Although there’s risk attached to that, there are predictable, controllable elements to that. But those factors do not come into play in gambling. You have risked everything for nothing, just the chance that the dice might fall on the right side and the card might be that which you need to finish your hand.
So providence and prudence and possessions would argue against gambling. Seems to me if you think about the story in Matthew 25:14-30, we talked about it a little this morning. Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a man who goes away and leaves his servants with certain responsibilities. One was given five talents, another was given two, one was given one. The master comes back. The whole intent of the story is that the servants have to use what has been given to them wisely. The master’s going to come back and hold them accountable for what has been given to them. He comes back and finds two that please him. He finds one that angers him. We read in fact that the one with five talents doubled it through trade.
That’s a word that speaks of business ventures. Could mean just the buy and selling of certain things and profit making through that. It could encompass the idea of investment that paid a return. It’s interesting, Jesus doesn’t see anything wrong with trading, investing. The five talents becomes 10, the two talents becomes four. And Jesus said to these servants, “Because you have done well in taking care of these little things, I’m going to give you something greater to do in my kingdom.” And then this other servant stands there shivering and sweating and holds cupped in his hand, the one talent and says, “You’re a hard master and out of fear, I just buried the talent. I have nothing to give you but that which you’ve given me. I neither wasted it or profited from it.” And Jesus tells us in that parable that the master called him a wicked and lazy servant and told him, “Why didn’t you go down to the bank and put it in an interest yielding account? At least I could have got something for my money.”
Seems to me folks is this not a reasonable extension of that idea? Can you imagine that one servant who had the one talent and did nothing with it actually going to the master and saying, by the way, I had one talent but I gambled with it and I lost it? If Jesus called him a wicked and lazy servant because he did not use his money wisely, how much more would that servant be condemned for wasting it wantonly in gambling? Risked totally unnecessary. Bottom line, gambling is about investment of God’s resources. Everything we possess belongs to God and it’s been given to us to meet our needs and to bring glory to God. Gambling puts what belongs to God at unnecessary risk. It unduly jeopardizes what God has entrusted to our care. As we connect that thought with the first thought, God would not want us to take what he has given to us and go and spread it before the gods of good luck and bad luck in the hope of glorifying him in pagan pursuits.
Brings me to the fourth thought, productivity argues against gambling. Productivity argues against gambling. If you really think about it, gambling mocks and minimizes hard and honest work, which by contrast in the book of Proverbs, is underscored as a virtuous path to prosperity. The Bible does not frown upon the idea of making money, of becoming rich, but the path to it is honest, hard work and wise investment. The book of Proverbs highlights these thoughts. Look at Proverbs 13:4, “The soul of the lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall make him rich.” The book of Proverbs honors the diligent man, ridicules the lazy man. Proverbs 14:23, “In all labor there is profit. But idle chatter leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 21:25-26, “The desire of the lazy man kills him for his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all day long but the righteous gives and does not spare.”
Here you have this lazy person who hasn’t worked, has nothing to give to others, spends his day wanting what others have, but makes no attempt to get what others have by the same means that they got it, hard, honest work. But the righteous man has worked hard. He’s got enough to meet his own needs and beyond that he gives generously to those who are in need. In fact, the book of Proverbs encourages a man not to sleep in on life or to chase fanciful dreams, but to work hard and make the most of his opportunities. Look at Proverbs 26:13-16, “The lazy man says, ‘There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion is in the streets!’ As a door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man on his bed.” What a picture. “The lazy man buries his hand in the bowl; It wearies him to bring it back to his mouth. The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” The Bible here is condemning a lazy man who does not take his opportunities. He wants to be taken care of hand and foot.
Proverbs 20:13, “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you shalt be satisfied with bread.” But here’s the verse I think’s most interesting. It’s a verse we read at the very beginning of the sermon. Proverbs 12:11, “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread.” Here we’re encouraged to work hard and honestly, and God will use that as a means by which to provide for our daily necessities. But he who follows frivolity, vain things, empty things et cetera have can be translated. He who chases fantasies is devoid of understanding. Rex Rodgers as I mentioned this morning, has written a tremendous book on gambling. Here’s what he says about that verse in Proverbs 12:11. “There is no better definition for chasing fantasies than gambling.” Gambling encourages people not to work and to throw their money away on blind wishes. By gambling people attempt to make void God’s principle, by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food. Gambling masquerades as a surrogate for work. It undermines work rationality, responsibility, but work is both a command and a gift from God.
That’s what’s so sad about our state legislators endorsing lotteries and the expansion of legal gambling because they’re encouraging people not to work, but they’re encouraging people to irrationality and irresponsibility. It’s the last thing a government servant should be doing. The book of Proverbs warns us to work hard, to not chase fantasies. Yet gambling plays into the indolence and idolatry of the unregenerate heart. We have a tendency to want something for nothing. The less we can do, the better we can do, and gambling offers you all of that. Just pay your money, take your ticket, scratch the card and maybe you’ll never have to work another day in your life. Yet the book of Proverbs holds work up as a gift, as a purpose, as a means by which man does himself good, subdues the earth and brings glory to the creator. But we like to lay back like the old mountaineer and his wife who were sitting in the front of the fireplace one evening, the wind was whistling outside and after a long silence the wife said, “Jed, I think it’s raining. Get up and go outside and see.” After a while the old mountaineer shook himself and replied with a sigh, “Oh Mo, why don’t we just call in the dog and see if he’s wet?”
That’s the heart of man apart from the grace of God, and gambling plays to that. Gambling feeds upon the sinful desire to escape work. Gambling is a friend to laziness. Gambling promotes the chasing of fantasy. Gambling defaces the image of God and man as a creative and constructive worker. That’s why it resonates with our culture. I think you need to think through this idea, parallel to this expansion and gambling America has become the most leisure oriented and leisure obsessed culture in the world. America used to work hard. America now plays hard. Americans want more for less. Listen to these words from Neil Postman, he says in a book Amusing Ourselves to Death, “At different times in our history different cities have been the focal point of radiating the American spirit. In the late 18th century, Boston was the center of political radicalism. In the mid 19th century, New York had become the symbol of a melting pot nation. Chicago the City of Big Shoulders came to symbolize the industrial energy and dynamism of America.”
“Today,” says Neil Postman, “We must look to Las Vegas as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration.” Its symbol, a 30 foot high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl for Las Vegas is entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment. Think about that, a city devoted to this one idea, entertainment, gambling, leisure. He goes on to say, “For Las Vegas is entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment and as such, proclaims the spirit of a culture which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce of being transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business. The result is that we are a people in the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” And we are. And you wonder why people want to gamble? Because people want the easy life, and it undermines the whole idea of purpose and creativity and work. The very thing that made this nation the great nation it was. And I use that word was purposefully, because in our present course we will be no longer great, because gambling just as one incident is undermining the very things that tempered the American spirit, hard work, personal responsibility.
This brings me to a fifth point. Providence argues against gambling. Prudence argues against gambling. Possessions argue against gambling. Productivity argues against gambling. Poverty argues against gambling. You say, pastor, what do you mean? Well, one of the most significant sins of the gambling industry in my mind is its despicable and deliberate abuse in treatment of the poor. This industry willingly and wantonly preys upon those who can least afford to gamble. Rather than offering the poor a genuine way out of poverty as the billboard’s promise. Outside of Detroit, cities like Detroit, you’ll see these billboards, your ticket out of here. That’s what they promise to the poor, to the disadvantaged, to the vulnerable in our society. But rather than offering them a genuine way out of poverty, gambling steals what little the poor man has. The way out of poverty is hard work, a good education, faithfulness in the small things until providence opens a door of opportunity for you. That’s the old way and it worked.
Now, the gambling industry offers the poor a ticket out of his poverty, but it’s not a ticket out of poverty it’s a ticket into poverty. Statistics tell us that people in the lowest income bracket spend four times as much of their salaries on gambling as those in the higher wage brackets. Interesting, isn’t it? Why is it that lottery ticket outlets are to be found in greater numbers in lower income areas of our cities? Did that happen by accident? Don’t kid yourself. That happened on purpose. This is where they pitch themselves to the poor. And for everyone that wins big, there are a million losers and multiplied sorrow with it. That’s the facts. And yet the book of Proverbs warns us not to exploit the poor. Not to take advantage of the disadvantaged. Listen to some verses from Proverbs. Proverbs 14:31, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who honors him has mercy on the needy.” Proverbs 16:8, “Better is a little with righteousness than vast revenues without justice.”
Proverbs 22:16 reinforces this thought again, “He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches and he who gives to the rich will surely come to poverty.” According to the book of Proverbs, those who live in poverty are often easy pickings for those who wield greater wealth or power, and so the Lord of the end time harvest commits himself to fight against those who will not protect the poor. And he promises severe punishment to those who take advantage of the weak. Seems to me in the light of such admonitions that to bet is to gamble with God’s judgment as it relates to the poor. This is a social trend that is hurting people. Adding to our national poverty levels. Breaking up marriages. Driving men, women and teenagers to suicide. There is no good that comes out of gambling. Poverty argues against it. As Spurgeon said many years ago, “A young gambler is sure to be an old beggar if he lives long enough.” High truth. Which brings me to our final thought, peace argues against gambling.
Gambling is a no-no because it works against peace and contentment in the heart of the christian. Throughout the book of Proverbs, the believer is encouraged to find contentment in those things that money cannot buy and death cannot steal. That is true wealth. If you want to measure your wealth tonight, then ask yourself what do I have that money cannot buy and death cannot steal? And the righteous man, the man who has come to know God through Jesus Christ has many of those things. Listen to Proverbs 15:16, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble.” By the way just as an interesting study, why don’t you trace the life story of those who have won big on the lottery? I was just reading the story of a man by the name of William Bud Post who won the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. He won $16.2 million. The day he got rid of all of his money by literally paying off the last few debts that he had incurred, he said it was the happiest in his life. His brother had tried to kill him for his money. He went through four wives. His life was a total mess, and his story can be multiplied. Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble.
Listen to proverbs of 16:8, “Better is a little with righteousness than vast revenues with without justice.” This verse says that it’s better to be poor while living according to God’s standards than to have great possessions purchased at the price of doing what does not accord with that standard. Gambling doesn’t accord to God’s righteous standards. To win big in gambling is not to win at all because you have won something that put you on the wrong side of God’s righteous standards. Better a little with the fear of God. Better a little with righteousness than vast revenues without justice. Look at Proverbs 23:17-18, again, this theme of contentment beyond material possession. “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all day for surely there is a hereafter and your hope will not be cut off.” Contentment comes from living by God’s priorities, and in order to be content one must hold on to what God values even while others are casting it aside.
Our society may be casting not which we believe to be right aside, but we should never be tempted to follow them because their great treasure comes with great trouble and their great revenues put them on into eternal debt. And the Christian is told not to envy the sinner because envy is coveting what others have even to the extent of wishing ill upon them. And it seems to me if you study the history of gambling and the fruit of gambling both in individual lives and society at large, gambling is no ally in the war against discontentment. Gambling will never leave you where you will find your one security in the sufficiency of God because gambling increases covetousness. It feeds upon greed. It is driven by a sense of selfishness where you covet what others have even to the desire of wishing them ill. That’s the whole point about gambling, you win at another person’s expense. Your joy is their sorrow. Your gain is their loss. Your smile is their tears. That’s gambling, it’s covetousness and greed written large in our society. It is a desire to have what others have and if need be to take from them in gambling apart from work or compensation.
And according to Exodus 20:17 covetousness is a violation of God’s law. And it seems to me it’s also a violation of Christian love because in Philippines 2:3 we’re told to look out for the interest of others before ourselves. How can you be looking after the interests of your neighbor when through gambling you rob him in many cases of what little he has? That’s not loving your neighbor. Lutzer said this morning, “Remember that gambling is stealing by mutual consent.” Covetousness was the very sin that brought the human race down when Adam Eve refused to be stewards of what God had given them and sought to be the owner of another’s property. Listen to these words as we draw to a close from James Kennedy in his book, Can America Be a Christian Nation Again? He says this, “Coveting is desiring anxiously, yearning to possess something that belongs to another without due compensation.” That is exactly what gambling is. Covetousness is desiring what belongs to our neighbor. The covetous man has put things in the place of God. He [inaudible 00:37:27] down in the mud flats of materialism, and has forgotten the kingdom.
He goes on to say this, “The greatest example of this in history is the picture of the Roman soldiers, the gamblers at Golgotha surrounding the cross of Christ. They are down on their knees with their faces to the mud, casting dice for the garments of Christ while above them the savior of the world is dying.” Gambling has a pernicious effect upon people in every conceivable way. Gambling does indeed draw a man just like the Roman soldiers away from that which is of eternal worth. That’s why we’re against gambling. And I am against gambling because gambling is an attack upon the fundamental nature of God and man, God is sovereign. Gambling is based on luck and chance. Man was created in the image of God to work purposefully. Gambling undercuts the whole work ethic and the value of service. I’m against gambling because it appeals to the worst in man, the covetousness of his heart, the greed and his love of material things. I’m against it because it appeals to the worst in man, leaving him loving money rather than his neighbor. I wish it wasn’t the case but it is the case tonight, America is betting its future on gambling.
Let’s pray that in our corner of God’s world, that you and I one, will shun this evil. Two, that we will give a reasonable hope for the way we act in this world according to God’s righteous standards. Three, that we will have compassion upon those who are entrapped in this. Four, that we will prove to be very generous people, people whose hearts are open, people who don’t need to be squeezed or pushed to give. That would be a tremendous witness in a society where people want more and more for doing less and less. Who are more than happy to get that by taking it from their neighbor, and often from the neighbor who can not afford to have it taken away from them.