Should Christians Play the Lottery?
As we seek to live more like Christ in our lives and desire to honor him more with how we handle our money, there are some ethical dilemmas that pop up in the world we live in. For instance, is it okay for Christians to play the lottery? Considering that recent lottery jackpots have garnered much attention as they have reached over one billion dollars, it’s certainly a good question. Something we did some time ago on the More Than Money podcast was talk with Christian Financial Ethicist, Dr. David W. Jones about this very subject and his answer was eye-opening.
According to Dr. Jones, there are three problems that he finds when it comes to Christians playing the lottery. Here they are:
1. It’s a heart problem.
As Christians, we are called to be content with our material status (1 Timothy 6:6-8) and called to love God and His people, not loving the world and its worldly desires (1 John 2:15). However, the lottery preys on discontentment. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone playing the lottery who doesn’t wish to get rich and change their financial situation. When we desire to love the world and have more of what the world tells us we should want, we head for dangerous territory.
Paul even reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
There certainly isn’t anything wrong with money in and of itself, but the excessive love or desire for money is a huge error. Hebrews 13:5 even reminds us to: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Generally, the lottery encourages a discontented heart to which we’re all prone if we’re not careful.
2. It’s a design problem.
God designed mankind to labor, and it is through that labor that we are called to be productive. We see in Scripture an essential connection between flourishing and labor. Even before sin entered the world, God called mankind to work the land and expand Eden throughout the world (Genesis 2:15). The lottery runs against this idea, the winner accumulates money for which he or she didn’t labor.
In Proverbs 13:11, King Solomon says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”
And 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
We see in God’s word that we’re supposed to labor to flourish. The lottery short circuits God’s divine design for humanity. For this reason, we oftentimes see those who end up winning the lottery becoming more miserable than they were before the windfall.
3. It’s a practical problem.
Simply put, the lottery is just bad news for everyone. There’s a reason it’s called a “poor tax”. If we look at how it works out in our country, we can see the poorest 1/3 of all U.S. households buy more than half of all lottery tickets. Nationwide, people who make less than $10,000 spend on average $597 on lottery tickets — about 6 percent of their income. That’s absolutely staggering. Essentially, we find that lotteries are just a redistributive tax from the poor back to the state.
Considering all three of these problems, a Christian could make a valid argument for avoiding the lottery. As believers who want to promote human flourishing in our world, we need to be careful we aren’t supporting structures that take advantage of the most vulnerable.
Paul’s encourages believers to steward their freedom well in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 and is a pertinent consideration as we think about our involvement in the lottery: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
About the authors:
Taylor Standridge is the producer and frequent co-host of the More Than Money podcast. In his spare time, he loves to write on matters of faith, finance, and culture as he seeks to help people think more clearly about who God is and what He wants us to do with our lives. He is also pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Apologetics and Evangelism from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. David W. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ.