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JAMES 5:1-6

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 28, 1998

About a year ago Karen and I were in staying in South Lake Tahoe - and most places up there - when you stay in hotel will give you “freebies” for the casinos - a pull of the $1 million slot machine - a roll of nickels - some type of enticement to get us into the casino. Because they know that most people once inside will do more than just the “freebie” things. The goal is to get us inside and rid us of as much of our money as they can.

They had given us a dollar’s worth of nickels and so I went in and hit the nickel slots. The amazing thing is I came away with about $3 - not exactly breaking the bank. But I felt like I had really accomplished something - I beat the casinos.

Many of us have this idea that gambling is okay as long as we stay within limits. I know a lot of people - and I’m sure you do too - who vacation in Tahoe and Las Vegas and they visit the casinos. We’re not addicts or mortgaging our kids future. And what’s the difference between spending $20 to watch a baseball game or $20 in the slot machines? Its entertainment.

This morning we want to focus on gambling. Because there really is something terribly wrong with gambling. And when I’m sharing about my illustrious gambling career - I’m actually sharing about something I’m not too proud of.

I invite you to turn with me to James 5:1-6 and we want to look at a Biblical principle of finances that can be applied to gambling. Should a Christian be involved with gambling? Within limits - is it just innocent fun - or sin?

James 5:1-6 - James writes - verse 1:  Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are motheaten.  Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasures for the last days.

This is like a cow being fattened up for the slaughter. The cow is having a great time. It eats as much as it can. And yet the more it eats the sooner comes the day when it’ll be slaughtered.

There is a worthlessness of accumulating wealth when time itself is coming to an end - and there is a coming judgment for our actions. Wealth is an illusion. It gives a false sense of security.

Verse 4:  Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you.

In James’ day - economically - there were five groups of people. On the bottom of the economic ladder were the slaves. Next up - if we could call it that - were the landless peasants who hired themselves out as day laborers and if there was no work, they starved. Thirdly, there were the farmers and artisans who might have land - or had been forced off their land and now worked on what was their land - they worked for the new land owner. Life for the laborer was cheap.

Then there were the merchants and traders who were pretty well off. In fact, some of them were pretty rich. And then at the top of the economic ladder were the large land owners and the priests. They had large, tenant-farmed estates and spent most of their time in Jerusalem enjoying themselves.

Their whole focus was on themselves - and it didn’t matter what they did to accumulate the wealth to indulge themselves. They paid almost nothing in wages - or they cheated workers out of their wages. They ran people off their own land. A poor worker might have been given 1 denarius a day as wages. At the top of the ladder, the rich were easily spending 400 denari a day in self-indulgent extravagance.

James if very specific - accumulation and hoarding of wealth at the expense of others is sin. God gives us His resources - dollars and cents - to serve Him and to serve others in His name.

This morning - by way of practical application - we’d like to apply this principle to gambling. The accumulation and hoarding of wealth at the expense of others is sin. Gambling violates this principle in at least 3 ways.

First, gambling promotes:


The insatiable desire for more.

Years ago movie companies were not careful about the use of Swahili - assuming that no one in the United States would understand. For one movie a director needed an African messenger who was to gasp out a sentence to the big chief, collapsing as he delivered his message. He had run and run for days with his vital news.

A local Englishman who spoke Swahili was asked to write an urgent sounding sentence in the Swahili. Which he did. An American actor played the part beautifully. And everything went well until the movie was shown in Nairobi - where everyone speaks Swahili. This intense dramatic scene was reduced to comedy. What the messenger actually said as he threw himself, exhausted, before the chief was, "I do not think I am getting paid enough money for this part."

Covetousness - the insatiable desire for more.

Americans always cherished the expectation that their standard of living would improve with each generation. In polls at the onset of the Reagan Presidency - 2 of every 3 respondents said they expected to be better off than their parents.

Now, that figure is being reversed. Almost 3/4’s of the 1,000 people who answered a Roper poll for Shearson Lehman Brothers say the American Dream is "harder to attain" than a generation ago. 60 percent say achieving the dream requires more financial risk than it did for their parents. Money remains something to dream about. When asked, Americans with household incomes under $25,000, said it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I can do all things through Him - God - who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11,13)

Contentment means that we are able to trust God for His provision and protection in whatever circumstances we are in. We are content it what He provides for us.

The opposite of contentment is covetousness - the desire for something more. Covetousness is like saying to God. “You aren’t providing for my needs I’m taking matters in my own hands to get what I want.”

Why do most people Gamble? - to get rich - to get more. Gambling feeds covetousness.

Second, gambling promotes:


Giving someone or something else besides God mastery over our lives.

Before 1979 only two states - Nevada and New Jersey - had legal casino gambling. Today there are 28 states with legalized casino gambling. Nearly 300 Indian-run casinos now exist and about 30 casinos are opening up every year. We can buy lottery tickets in 37 states - up from 15 a few years ago. Each year, Americans spend $600 billion on legal wagering - which comes out to about $1.5 billion per day. Which is more money than we spend per year on films, books, amusements, and musical entertainment combined.

Illegal gambling is over $100 billion. And on the Internet - more than $600,000 of the world-wide $1 billion in illegal betting - came from the United States.

95% of American citizens have gambled at some time in their lives. 82% have played the lottery. 75% have played slot machines. 44% have gambled with cards.

This is big business and one of the fastest growing industries in America. By the year 2000 some experts have predicted that 40% of United States households will be participating in legalized commercial gambling.

Burt Dragin - a teacher at Laney College in Oakland and an author on the subject of gambling - recently wrote this in the S.F. Chronicle: “Take a trip to a local racetrack or casino and look around. Nine out of ten people are clearly having fun. But somewhere between 2 and 10 percent are stone-cold addicts. They’re at the track, the card clubs, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Las Vegas casinos - often with the glassy look of despair. I’ve seen them; I’ve been one of them. It’s a tough addiction to beat; and it’s getting tougher, thanks to the proliferation of legalized gambling. In California alone there are 800,000 adults and 50,000 juveniles who are addicted to gambling.”

The fastest growing “addiction” among high school and college-age young people is gambling - with as many as 7% - or 1.3 million teenagers are addicted.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

God makes it clear in the Bible that Christians are not to allow their minds or bodies to be mastered by anything other than God Himself. Anything else leads to idolatry. Either God is in control or He isn’t.

Gambling promotes idolatry.

Thirdly, gambling promotes an:


When the lottery was over $100 million a couple of months ago I bought a $5 quick-pick - and of course I didn’t win. Even though I know I would have tithed on the winnings.

When someone hits the lottery it makes the front page. Although the state takes 28% in taxes the payoff seems well worth it. And we’re told that our schools benefit from the money the lottery takes in. Legalized gambling now has the tacit blessing of the government. Our governments rely heavily on taxes from gambling activities to pay for government programs and services. Buying lottery tickets is almost like our patriotic duty.

For churches and charitable organizations Bingo - “Christian” gambling is becoming a major means of support. 34% of Americans have gambled with bingo.

And yet, gambling leads to covetousness - sets us up in a system in which we trust ourselves - or luck - and not God. Gambling promotes addiction rather than the mastery of God over our lives. And, gambling creates a condition where one person’s gain is necessarily many other persons’ loss.

In legitimate business both parties gain. If I buy a pair of shoes - I get the shoes - the shop owner gets the profit. Gambling creates a condition where people are willingly duped out of their money - it exploits human weakness.

Jesus said the second greatest commandment - after loving God with everything we are, is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:39)

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” (Romans 14:21).

Imagine, by promoting Bingo, churches are ripping off the very people God has called us to serve and reach with His Gospel. Our governments - in promoting lotteries are stealing from the very people they are set up to help and protect.

As Christians, how can we participate in this?

James if very specific - the accumulation and hoarding of wealth at the expense of others is sin. God gives us His resources - dollars and cents - to serve Him and to serve others in His name.