Is There Anything Wrong With Playing The Lottery?

Title: Is There Anything Wrong With Playing the Lottery?

Text: Ephesians 5:15-16, Proverbs 14:12; 23:4

Time: October 1st, 2012


Last Sunday I read in the Detroit News that a Michigan woman who had won the million-dollar lottery last year was found dead in her home in Ecorse. Apparently she overdosed on drugs. This is just another tragic tale of a lottery winner. But there’s even more to the story. She had gained notoriety in the news months before when it came out that she was still receiving food stamps and welfare benefits from the government – even after she won her million-dollar lottery prize! She admitted as much in a court of law and pleaded guilty to fraud, so she was in legal trouble, although she was a millionaire. I’ve read story after story of people who win the lottery in their state, but then fall on hard times because of winning. They’ve produced television documentaries about it, this lottery syndrome, that brings a string of bad luck to apparently lucky people after they win. Now I’m not claiming that everyone who wins big money will somehow fall upon hard times or experience negative circumstances in life; I’m sure there are just as many people who don’t go through any obvious problems after they win. But my point is that winning large sums of money doesn’t solve all the problems of life, or even make life easier – and in many cases, maybe a majority of cases, it makes life even more difficult. Because of our secular, modern and materialistic culture today we tend to think too highly of money and material possessions. We tend to treasure them far too much. We tend to value the material aspects of life above everything else. But that is our mistake. That’s something that needs to be corrected, not encouraged. That’s why many of us are praying for a large Christian spiritual revival to visit our nations in order to turn our people back from the false values of money and materialism – and turn them back to God. Only when we place our supreme love and trust in God can we avoid the pitfalls of living in a prosperous society. Not that money and material possessions are sinful or wrong in and of themselves. But it’s our wrongful preoccupation with them that make it wrong. But what about the question of buying lottery tickets? Is it wrong to buy a lottery ticket? After all, millions and millions of people do buy them; some every day, others every week, still others once in a while, perhaps once a month or so. What’s wrong with buying into a little hope? What’s wrong with taking a chance on winning it big? What could be wrong with indulging in a little bit of excitement in the possibility of striking it rich? I’ve been asked about the question of buying lottery tickets by members of the church, and so I’d like to address the subject from a biblical Christian perspective. Let’s see what the Bible says about the lottery.


First, buying a lottery ticket is simply bad stewardship of money. Ephesians 5:15-16, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Simply put, buying lottery tickets is unwise because it’s a waste of money, financial resources that can be better spent on necessary things in life. I probably don’t need to tell you that the odds of winning the lottery are unbelievable. The odds are so stacked against you winning that it’s not even worth trying to come up with an exact number. A million to one? Ten million to one? Nobody knows exactly what the odds are of winning, but they are really, really low. “Yes, but someone wins, someone walks away rich.” Yes, but for everyone who walks away rich, millions more walk away poorer. If you simply look at it from a statistical standpoint, it’s not worth playing the lottery. The chances of winning any money are so very low that it’s like throwing money away. And that’s the sad part of the lottery. I talked to a man the other day, someone I knew from the church, outside a 7-11 convenient store. He had just purchased five $1 lottery tickets, in other words, he just spent $5 on lottery tickets – and he’s not wealthy, he doesn’t have money to burn; in fact, by some standards, by some measurements, he might be classified as poor or below the official government poverty level. But he just spent $5 on lottery tickets. I watched him as he scratched off the numbers and the result was he didn’t win; he lost on every lottery ticket. Now that’s $5 down the drain. That’s food money that he doesn’t have; that’s money for housing (he lives in a low cost apartment); that’s transportation money that’s gone, and so forth. My point is, buying lottery tickets is a bad investment; it’s almost a guarantee to lose. If you look at it in terms of investment, it’s bad. Now the Bible warns us again and again to be good stewards of the resources the Lord gives us. It’s a matter of stewardship. If God entrusts us with money and material resources, we need to use them wisely, not foolishly. Buying lottery tickets with the resources the Lord gives us is foolish, because of the bad return on investment. It’s like throwing money away. I can’t pray to God to provide for my financial needs, and then go out and waste my finances playing the lottery. “Yes, but you could win it big! Then it would all be worth it.” Yes, but you probably won’t win it big. Yes, you most certainly won’t win it big. So overall, it’s a waste. We don’t even need a big, long theological reason for not playing the lottery. There’s just a simple, common sense reason – it’s a waste of our limited financial resources.


Second, winning the lottery isn’t necessarily a blessing. Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” After a person wins it big in the lottery they always show a picture in the paper of the winner standing behind a huge check written out to them for millions of dollars. Everyone has a smile on their face; everyone is happy. But check out the winner’s life a year down the road, or five years, or ten years. It’s usually not so happy. I’ve already mentioned the so-called “lottery syndrome” – how bad things seem to follow winners of the lottery eventually, down the road, in the future. Now why might that be? What could be better than winning a lot of money? Wouldn’t that make life better? No, not necessarily. Again, this is false idea that our society teaches us. It teaches us that money increases fulfillment and happiness; it doesn’t. In fact, it often does just the opposite. For example, most of the winners of big pay-off lottery tickets come from the middle or lower socio-economic classes. You’d think that giving big money to someone who has struggled all their life to make ends meet might be a good thing, right? Wrong. Dumping millions of dollars on a person who has never had to manage anything over a few thousand dollars is a recipe for disaster. In fact, for the average person, I would go as far as to say that simply giving them a million dollars would hurt, not help them. There’s something called not being ready for something. There’s something called lacking the wisdom, knowledge and experience in handling large sums of money. I’m not sure I could handle a million dollars just handed to me overnight. I don’t have experience managing resources like that. I don’t know the temptations and the problems and mistakes that can be made in dealing with that much money. There are reports of past lottery winners going out and like the prodigal son wasting it all on riotous living – drinking, drugs, women, partying, over-indulging, and so forth. There are reports of lottery winners getting scammed by shady deals and investments. Still other reports of past lottery winners show how it changed them and others around them, leading to divorces, family divisions, breaking up friendships, and other problems. So then the question becomes, “Why would I ever want to win the lottery?” Unless I’m someone who can handle the pressures and the problems of having a huge lump sum of money dumped into my lap, why would I want to disrupt my life and risk ruining it just to be rich? Being rich isn’t the best thing that can happen in life. Why see it as such? The Bible outlines a way of life for us to live that doesn’t require riches. Why should we seek after riches when we don’t need them?


Third, playing the lottery isn’t wise, it’s foolish. Proverbs 23:4, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” I’ve already mentioned two reasons why we shouldn’t play the lottery – first, it’s a bad investment of our limited financial resources; second, even if we were to win, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing or blessing in our lives. Now technically speaking I can’t see anything sinful in the act of buying a lottery ticket. If someone were to come up to me and say, “Pastor, I just bought a lottery ticket. Did I sin?” I wouldn’t be able to tell them categorically that they sinned. I don’t believe that buying a lottery ticket is a sinful act, in and of itself. But what I said before is that it’s bad stewardship of resources. Any activity that practically guarantees a loss of money; anything where it’s almost 100% for certain that you’ll lose is not a good thing to invest in. So what’s wrong with the lottery is that it’s a bad use, a terrible use, of the limited resources God gives us in life. It’s irresponsible to buy lottery tickets, given the odds against getting a return on your investment are so low. I know that some pastors and church leaders say that buying lottery tickets is sinful. I know where they are coming from. But I’d rather approach the whole subject from the standpoint of stewardship, from the perspective of wise money management. God holds us accountable in respect to how we use our money. Do you pray God’s blessings on your finances? Do you trust that God will provide for all your needs according to his riches in heaven, according to Philippians 4:19? If so, how can you in good conscience, then, go out and waste and squander your limited finances on lottery tickets? It’s foolish, it’s a waste. But what about these super big lotteries that get up to millions and millions of dollars, that spread across a number of states, that involve hundreds of millions of dollars? In the chance of a huge lottery pay-off, wouldn’t it be rational, even wise, to buy into it, at least a few dollars for the chance to win? Even if you lost, it wouldn’t be too much you lost; but if you won, it would be worth millions. Wouldn’t that be a smart thing to do? I can understand the logic of wanting to at least have a chance of winning a big lottery pay-off for the cost of a few dollars of tickets. But again, we must ask ourselves the two questions I asked above – is it really a good investment of money and even if we won would it be worth it? In respect to the odds of winning, the bigger the prize the lower your odds of winning. So you are essentially throwing your money down a bigger bottomless pit. You say it’s only a few dollars, but have you ever needed just a few more dollars and been short before? If so, don’t even waste a few dollars on something. Second, if winning a lot of money can corrupt us and change our lives for the worst, what would winning even more money do to us?


Again, the false assumption in entering and attempting to win a big lottery game is that winning that much money is a good thing. No, not necessarily. You may say, “Well, I’d like to find out if it’s a good thing.” But unfortunately, you can’t try out winning a lot of money to see if it’s good or bad for you. If you win it, it’ll play itself out in your life and years down the road, you’ll find out if it’s a blessing or a curse. But what if it’s a bad thing? What if you find that you can’t handle it? What if you find that the world, the flesh and the Devil are just too strong for you to handle with that much money? If so, then you are worse off for winning. The truth is, we don’t need to win the lottery for God to work in our life. We don’t need anything the lottery offers. We don’t need that much money, the millions or tens of millions or even the hundreds of millions that some lotteries get up to. Yes, we can dream and fantasize about that much money, what we’d do with it, what good things we’d do, and so forth. But the fact is, none of us knows how we’d handle that much money dropped into our lap all of a sudden. Maybe we’d do ok with it, but maybe we wouldn’t. So we see that the risk of losing and the risk of winning is just too great for a Christian to really participate in the lottery. Again, I’m not saying that it’s a sin to buy a lottery ticket. I don’t want to lay a legalistic trip on you and make you feel guilty if you buy or have bought a lottery ticket. I’m saying that from the standpoint of stewardship, it’s a bad deal. Plus, it turns our hopes away from God and onto winning. Do you trust God to take care of you, or do you put your hopes on hitting it big with the lottery? Can you trust God for a job, for earnings, for the financial resources to pay your bills and give generously to others? Or are you waiting to strike it rich in the lottery before you share your money with others or with your church or with those in need? Winning the lottery, or even trying to win, is an attempt to by-pass the normal will of God for our lives. God will provide as we pray and ask him for opportunities to work, earn and spend our financial resources. Trying to win the lottery can be an attempt on our part to by-pass God’s normal, natural plan for our resources, and gain riches and wealth all at once. But we shouldn’t seek to short-cut God’s ordinary will for our lives through the lottery. If riches, if wealth comes our way, let us rejoice and use it for God’s glory. But we shouldn’t spend much time seeking after riches. Just as Proverbs 23:4 says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”


%d bloggers like this: