John Piper on Gambling, the Lottery, and Fantasy Football

By koa sinag

John Piper on Gambling, the Lottery, and Fantasy Football

Is it sinful to gamble on sports?

Fantasy sports are now a multibillion-dollar gambling industry in the United States thanks to apps like DraftKings and FanDuel, leading a young man to email and ask if a “rather modest” bet of twenty to fifty dollars per week is sinful.

“It is,” Pastor John replied, “but my words don’t make something sinful. God’s words make something sinful.” Six considerations.

1. We get one life to live for Christ’s glory (2 Cor. 5:15).

“Then comes eternity.” We get no do-overs. “Every day is either invested well or lost forever. Every breath you take, every minute of life you have, is a free gift of God and a trust, a stewardship, which God says should be lived for his glory, for the magnifying of his Son.” Innocent games may be a helpful refreshment for the mind and to commune with others, “but in themselves—in a fallen, needy, miserable, tragic, dying, hell-bent world like ours—they have very little significance.”

2. We can get disoriented in a fog of unreality if we’re not careful.

To the degree we get sucked into unreal worlds like fantasy football, we must account for how “living in an unreal world” makes our “real-world impact greater for the good of people and the glory of God.” Sin is fundamentally deceit—a trick to get us to desire what is unreal over what is real (Heb. 3:13). So a nickel bet may be modest, but fifty dollars a week isn’t—because “half the world’s population lives on $2.50 a day, which is $17.50 a week, which is below what he’s gambling. Our friend is throwing to the wind up to fifty dollars a week, calling it modest gambling. So there’s good evidence he has lost touch with reality, and I would plead with him, ‘Wake up, friend. Wake up!’”

3. Beware of loving money.

Gambling may enhance the “emotional buzz” of the Sunday game, but it’s more likely driven by the desire “to get more money by putting other people’s money at risk.” An income made apart from virtuous labor is symptomatic of a love of money that the Bible calls suicidal (1 Tim. 6:9–10).

4. Know that your money is not your money.

“I would say quite bluntly, forthrightly, and confidently that you have no right to risk God’s money this way. Managers don’t gamble with their master’s money—period.” Faithful trustees don’t gamble with the trust fund. We all give account for our stewardship (Matt. 25:14–30). “To gamble with God’s money on trivialities like this is a kind of embezzlement.”

5. See gambling as a widespread “social sickness,” bringing ruin to millions, “especially the poor.”

It preys on the poor more than anyone else. “The people who can least afford it take the biggest hit. Christians should not participate in lotteries, casinos, or online gambling—an entire structure of devastation for millions of people.”

6. Seek better investments, like stocks that will grow over time.

Better, “find gloriously happy, helpful good deeds to do in people’s lives. Creatively seek out how to use all that money in an excellent way. Imagine investing fifty dollars a week, two hundred dollars a month, in the causes of justice and gospel-spreading and the relief of the suffering. Oh, my, how much fun that would be. Believe me, friend, it is more blessed to give than to receive—or to risk. It is more blessed to invest creatively in the eternal joys of other people than to play with God’s money in the dream world of fantasy football.”1

Speaking of money love, we must free our lives from money fear to live a life of worship. We kill this anxiety by preaching to ourselves regularly. “It ain’t automatic for John Piper to be fearless about money, though I get paid plenty, way plenty. It isn’t automatic for me. It isn’t automatic for you. We are battling fear and anxiety every day, not to mention greed.” We do it by affirming regularly: “He’s shepherd to me. He’s Father to me. He’s King to me” (Luke 12:32–34). And he’s not stingy in his care for us. “Preach these things to yourself and attack fear and anxiety in your life with these truths so that when you overcome fear about money, God gets the glory.”2

Sin is fundamentally deceit—a trick to get us to desire what is unreal over what is real.

Gambling preys on the poor

Later, I asked Piper to elaborate on the effects of gambling on the poor.

Lotteries prey on the poor—especially pull-tabs and scratch tickets whose smaller and more frequent payouts ($10, $100, or $500) “draw in disproportionately more poor people than, say, the $200 million Powerball.” As the poor gamble, they redirect their money to local governments. Gambling is a “regressive tax” on the poor, a way of “luring the poor, who pay almost no taxes for social services, to pay a kind of tax in a way that worsens their situation rather than making it better, which is what taxes are supposed to do.” And gambling preys on the poor because the poor are more financially hopeless,” a feeling that “drives most of the purchases.” Buying a scratch ticket won’t make a bad situation much worse. When you feel financially hopeless already, “arguments against gambling lose most of their force.”

So what’s to be done? (1) Consider the poor. We don’t dismiss the poor or “stand aloof and roll our eyes at the stupidity of millions of dollars that roll into the state coffers from people who can barely pay their bills.” Instead, the Bible calls our minds and hearts to consider them (Pss. 41:1; 113:7; Prov. 14:31; 17:5; 31:9). (2) Refuse to financially feed any institution that preys on the poor. (3) Advocate for the poor. “We should give our thinking, praying, advocating, investing, and planning toward the removal of unnecessary barriers to productive work and gainful employment among the poor, the removal of incentives and allurements toward waste and squandering and irresponsibility, and instead seek to put in place encouragements toward deferred gratification, and, finally, the creation of responsibility and hope in people’s lives, through the gospel.”3

Isn’t the stock market like gambling?

In truth, money is always risky. “You bury it, and it’ll maybe rot. You can hide it in the house, but the house may burn down. You can put it in the bank, and the banks may fail, and the government that insures it may fail. Put it in stocks with differing philosophies of principal protection, and they all may go bankrupt. Yes, there is no escaping risk when it comes to money in this world—or for that matter, doing anything in this world.”





So isn’t stock market investing as risky as gambling? No, for three reasons. (1) “Investing means letting another person use your money for enterprises that you believe contribute to the common good, while gambling means supporting a system that is counterproductive to the common good, and especially destructive for the poor.” (2) Gambling is all or nothing. Stock market investing is rarely a total loss. (3) Gambling rides on high loss-possibility, but the market lets you choose degrees of lesser risk.

The Dow is wiser than gambling, but there’s an investment of greater value than both, although it’s far riskier because “you might have to lose your life in the process.” But this investment is also “foolproof ” with guaranteed dividends “greater than any dividends in the universe.” It’s an investment that cannot be destroyed by bankruptcy, bear markets, rust, age, inflation, robbery, or hackers (Matt. 6:19–21; Luke 2:33; 1 Tim. 6:17–19). In the end, “the main emphasis in the financial life of a Christian should not be how to minimize risk and maximize gain in the stock market, but rather how to maximize eternal gain by maximizing generosity for the sake of causes that glorify God and rescue sinners from suffering, especially eternal suffering.”

As for corporate corruption, how can we be certain we’re not investing in exploitative and evil companies? “As far as I know, you can’t. You can’t know that. But that’s true of every dollar you spend in the marketplace.” A local store may be a front for evil. “Any clothing chain where you get your shirt may exploit foreign workers.” Do your homework. Never invest in evil. But also know that “you’re not responsible for all that somebody might do to misuse your money any more than a salt manufacturer is responsible for high blood pressure.”4

Are Christians shrewd investors in this age?

No, often not. Jesus uses the parable of the dishonest manager to spotlight how shrewd the world is with money. In this case a manager, about to be fired, barters with others to score points and store favors and win personal influence that he will cash out later (Luke 16:1–13). It’s a cunning move. In comparison, Christians are often a lot less shrewd in the world of investing. But Jesus says fiscal cleverness is ultimately insignificant.

Christians eye eternal gains, not quick monetary wins. So “maybe you aren’t that shrewd when it comes to the stock market, but guess what? Who cares? You’ve got a billion years to enjoy your investment.” Use your money for eternal gain, because as Jesus says, worldly wealth is destined to “fail” you (Luke 16:9). “Fail” (ἀνέκλειπτος) is a trigger word to remind us that money is temporal and fleeting (Luke 12:33). But “making friends” in the parable translates to using money to meet people’s needs. “That’s the way to lay up treasure in heaven that does not fail.” That’s the shrewdest investment. “Here’s the basic point: don’t worry about being a shrewd investor in this age, where you can provide a future that will only fail.” Instead, “use your resources to do as much good as you can for the glory of God and the eternal good of others.” This is true financial expertise.5

Notes:

  1. APJ 1269: “Is It Sinful to Gamble on Fantasy Sports?” (October 29, 2018).
  2. APJ 1820: “How Money Fears Kill Our Worship” (August 10, 2022).
  3. APJ 1732: “How the Lottery Preys on the Poor” (January 17, 2022).
  4. APJ 1305: “Is Investing in Stocks Any Better Than Gambling?” (January 21, 2019).
  5. APJ 1273: “Does Jesus Commend Dishonesty in Luke 16?” (November 7, 2018).

This article is adapted from Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life’s Most Important Questions by Tony Reinke.



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