Once again, I post an article by Hershael York about a tough subject. Originally posted in 2005.
A dear pastor friend of mine who, like me, finds himself of necessity involved in trying to keep casino gambling out of Kentucky asked me to share some biblical reasons why I believe gambling is wrong. I actually wrote most of the following in 2005 and it was published in the Western Recorder, the official newsmagazine of Kentucky Baptists. In order that it might contribute to the debate that now consumes our state, as well as inform some of my students who think it an adiapherous avocation, I share it once again with the conviction that a follower of Christ has no business gambling.
Simply put, gambling is sin.
If no passage of Scripture explicitly forbids it, can we with confidence claim that gambling is wrong, a moral evil, sin? With good reason, Christians are hesitant to label sins that the Bible doesn’t mention, yet we often have to distill principles from the Bible that we apply to contemporary situations. Pornography, computer hacking, or cheating on tests aren’t mentioned in the Bible either, yet believers who want to live like Jesus know intuitively and correctly that these behaviors run counter to the will of God. While biblical texts may not mention them explicitly, biblical principles speak to them directly.
In the same way, the ethics of Scripture clearly teach that gambling is wrong and a sin against God, not for one single reason but for many. The slot machine, casino, or poker table are not for believers submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
Many Christians object that if they budget a certain amount of their discretionary entertainment funds for gambling and don’t go beyond that, what’s the harm? After all, Christian people waste money on all kinds of diversions. Far from convincing me that gambling is not necessarily wrong, this particular argument actually confirms it in my mind, because it reveals a complete disregard for what one’s participation in gambling does to others. This argument reveals a self-centeredness and lack of concern for weaker brothers and sisters that believers ought to find disturbing (Romans 14:21). In reality, even Christians who are not personally hurt by it are not free to participate in an industry that preys on the weak and the poor.
The Bible is full of references to God’s view of economics. In the garden of Eden, even before sin entered the world, God established a work ethic by which humanity was to exist (Genesis 1:28-30) Part of God’s creation of man in His own image was that man would work for his food. While God provided it, Adam and Eve had to exercise “dominion” over the plants and animals and till the soil, working for their sustenance. After they sinned, work changed to a more laborious task, but it remained the way God provided for them. In other words, God’s way is that we should earn what we get.
Think about these reasons why gambling violates Christian principles:
Working and investing for a living is based on a win/win scenario, but gambling is always win/lose.God put His stamp of approval on commerce and work. When a carpenter builds a cabinet and gets paid, both parties win. One of them gets the cabinets she wanted, and one of them gets the money he desired. They can both feel good about the transaction. Not so with gambling. Someone always loses and pays a price.
Gambling is motivated by greed. Let’s be honest and admit that greed lies at the heart of all gambling. The desire to get something for nothing is really another name for covetousness (Exodus 20:17; Prov. 21:25-26).
Gambling is a wasteful use of the Lord’s money. I doubt that many Christians who gamble tithe, but even if they do, New Testament Christians understand that God doesn’t have the right to only ten percent of our money, but all of it. Even though I am a tither, I am still required to be a steward of all I have because it belongs to God. I am no freer to gamble with God’s money than I am with anyone else’s. Even though others might waste the Lord’s money on equally frivolous things, their sin doesn’t excuse mine.
Gambling shows a lack of love for my neighbor. If I really love my neighbor, I want only what is for his good (Matt. 22:39, 1 Cor. 10:24). When legislators talk about putting casinos on the state line so we can prey on the greed and weakness of our neighbors, they reveal the harmful assault that gambling really is. Can I in good conscience support something that preys on the weaknesses and indulges the worst instincts of the precious people around me?
Gambling fails to consider innocent families. We might be tempted to think that if a person gambles away all of his money, then that is his problem and serves him right. But what of his ten-year-old son who can’t afford school supplies? What of his wife who has to work to pay off the credit cards she didn’t even know she had? What of his ailing parents who cannot count on his help in their senior years? What of his daughter’s college education? Proverbs 15:27 says “A greedy man brings trouble to his family,” and nowhere is that more obvious than in the gambling industry.
Gambling shows no concern for God’s glory. A Jesus-follower should try to glorify God in everything (1 Cor. 10:31), and use his or her money to accomplish good for the kingdom (Matt. 6:19-21, 24).
Gambling is not an act of faith but a game of chance. Paul wrote that “Everything that is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The Christian life is to be lived in dependence on God to meet all needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
Jesus wouldn’t do it. Can you picture Jesus sitting at a slot machine with a cup full of quarters? He was interested in doing His Father’s business, alleviating suffering and grief, not contributing to it.
Hershael W York (Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching (1997); Associate Dean, Ministry and Proclamation / B.A., M.A., University of Kentucky M.Div., Ph.D., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary).
John MacArthur, along with serving as the Senior Pastor of Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA (since 1969), also serves as President of The Master’s University. He explains how the legislation that has moved through the House and Senate will affect Christian colleges and university–and how he plans to navigate through this.
He refuses to lead with fear, but lead with joy!
I love what’s happening with the replanting arm of our North American Missions Board. One of the great tenets of their ministry is that a replanter must be a visionary shepherd, finding a balance between having a God-entrenched vision for His church and a love for His people.
Sadly, those two aspects can be off-balance. You can love (or fear) your people so much that you do not lead; or you can love your vision so much that people get in the way.
Here’s what can happen:
- A growing misdirection of their love–it goes more toward self than those whom they are called to shepherd. If pastors love their vision more than the people they are called to serve, they may betray an attitude and their heart that shows they really love themselves more than they do they’re people.
- A growing disgruntlement against their people for not understanding the ‘rightness’ of their leader.Many pastors enter into the ministry with false expectations and ideals. They see themselves as the resident experts and rescuers of a problem church, rather than ones who are rolling up their sleeves to serve alongside people that they truly care about.
- A growing disillusionment to the ministry in general, and to their church in particular. As a result, many question they’re calling in the ministry, or leave ministry all together.
- A growing division to the influencers and leaders in the church. Those influencers have been at those churches for longer than those pastors and could well be there when the pastor leaves. Pastors need long, productive talks with their leadership to understand the culture of the church, then to provide a mutual sharpening. The vision then becomes a result of the collective rather than just the pastors. Plus, this shows they love those with whom they serve.
- A growing despair on the homefront–after all, no pastor ever lived who didn’t take all they carried (good and bad) into their homes. Sadly, pastors often talk about their issues in front of their children. As a result, PKs associate church with pain and trouble.
- A growing disenchantment with Christ for putting the pastor with this condition in such a situation. Many pastors may ask, Lord, why did you send me to this church? They don’t get my vision, they don’t appreciate my gifts, etc. But again, the problem is a love of self over and against a love of the people to whom Christ sent them, which means they love self more than Jesus.
Dear Church, pray for your pastors. Selfishness is a cardinal joy stealer. Pastors like anyone else are prone to the love of self. Pray that God would provide people in their lives to keep them humble and to invest in them as needed.
Dear pastors, shepherd the flock of God. Love your people as fellow pilgrims in this world. Treasure the value of the local church with all its warts and wrinkles. Believe me, your church may well treasure you with all your warts and wrinkles.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:5-7, ESV).
When God brings us through a particular chapter in our lives, our love for Him should swell and our joy should be directed toward Him. We glorify Him, understanding that it’s by His grace, for His glory, and for our good that all things work (Romans 8:28). Everything God works in us has the purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
Paul gives a potent phrase in the ‘love’ chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” As we’ve traveled through Nehemiah at my church, we’ve seen all through that some outside and inside the covenant people of God were pulling for the failure of Nehemiah and God’s people to finish the wall. Every step of the way, discouragement hit. Fear enveloped the workers, but Nehemiah’s vision, direction, encouragement, and backbone kept them rolling. His eyes were firmly fixed on Yahweh. His own personal celebrity and comfort would not do (Nehemiah 5:14-19). God’s will, the welfare of His people, and their witness of Him to the nations were paramount.
One of the saddest conclusions a pastor specifically or a Christian in general is to know that, from the testimony of Scripture and church history (and plain ol’ experience), that not everyone who identifies with the people of God rejoice when God’s way is accomplished. And nothing discourages a church more when pastors seek their own wisdom and way at the expense of God’s way–where their love of their vision trumps the love of their people.
Pastors are flagging and falling because they, in reality, come to a church in love with themselves, their degrees, their intellect, their vision. But they struggle to love the church to which they were called (why?) because that church may not immediately appreciate his vision because they cannot get past his lack of love for them.
Remember: people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
The attributes found in these four verses apply to both sides of the pulpit. Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word and lead with patience (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor (both pastor and partner in the gospel alike). When that love is in place, God will direct your joy in the appropriate places. When it’s not, that joy is misdirected. Don’t believe me? Look at Jesus’ words:
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
A couple months ago, I gave the devotional at our Colorado Baptists’ State Executive Board meeting. I’m not sure how other Baptist state conventions work, but sitting in a room surrounded by godly men and women who love Jesus, love His Word, love Colorado, and love the mission that God has placed on us to saturate the Centennial state with the gospel of Jesus. I was the least of the least sitting around the table.
What had churned in my heart was how God often calls us to lead through weakness so we will see that Jesus is enough! Second Corinthians 11:28-12:10 has become a close friend to me in moving through the various chapters of life: death (today was my father-in-law’s birthday, who passed away in 2009; along with one of my best friends who committed suicide back in 2014), illness (my wife was diagnosed with lupus in 2009 as well), plus the daily anxieties that come with pastoring a church.
Why do we as pastors specifically and leaders in general find such difficulty in owning our weaknesses? Let’s take this question a step further: why did Paul seem to rejoice so much in his weaknesses?
- He owned the notion that ministry is hard. Paul spoke in 11:28 how the churches filled him with anxiety daily. Yes, the Philippian church brought him joy, but the thread of disunity was sewn all through the book, so he warned them to be of one mind and heart. But there’s the Corinthian church who brought their pagan practices in the body, the Galatian church who so quickly deserted the gospel, and so on. Ministry is hard–make no mistake about it.
- Christ leads us best through the hardness of situations and the weakness of leaders. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weaknesses.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the grace of Jesus is enough because His power is made perfect in weakness.” It is perfectly natural in or own nature to lead from power and strength. It is a supernatural work to lead in weakness so we do not receive the glory, but Jesus does.I struggle with this at times. I pastor a church that is what many call ‘established.’ It’s fifty six years old. Our churches do not get much press. The new and the big get the press. They receive this because they are throwing long pass completions, while most churches are three yards and a cloud of dust. But when I realized that Jesus is enough, regardless of whatever comes our way, I’m good. Regardless of what other staff, other churches, other anybody or anything says or does, Christ is enough even in weakness–especially in weakness.
- Find contentment in His call. How many times do we hear of pastors and staff who are serving in churches but who question their call? What begins to sustain them is people liking them, or successes (“wins”). But when people struggle liking them or the successes don’t come, they have nothing on which to fall back. We all walk around with containers. Do we want others to fill ours, or do we wish Christ to make ours the way He wishes, and we be filled in Him by Him?
Christ leads us best through weakness. And it’s through this that we may lead with joy.
“Understanding the Old Testament is also impossible without reference to Christ. He is the key that unlocks all the mysteries of the Old Testament. This is not speculation; this is the teaching of the New Testament, both by direct statement and by example. When the resurrected Christ walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He expressed His concern that they were slow to believe what the prophets had written concerning His suffering and glory (Luke 24:25-26). Then “beginning at Moses and all the prophets…he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
All through the book of Nehemiah, we see three basic keys to their life together–which also serve as basic keys to our Christian life and our life together as a people of God. We must be concerned about:
- The will of God.
- The spiritual and physical welfare of God’s people.
- The witness of God’s people to the nations.
The will of God.
Nehemiah led God’s people to rebuild their wall around Jerusalem for their protection. Yet, Nehemiah also showed them that the reason they were in their predicament was due to their ignoring or ignorance of the Word of God as found in the Mosaic Law. Adversity from the outside is one thing; adversity from within (Nehemiah 5) are especially tragic, especially when the leaders of God’s people disregarded the law.
God’s will for His NT church are found in “The Greats” (The Great Commandment and the Great Commission): Love God with all we have, love our neighbor as ourselves, go and make disciples–which, if you’ll notice, parallel what we see of the three keys from Nehemiah. In this category, if we love God with all we have and all we are, we will surrender our all to the will of God.
The welfare of God’s people.
Sanballat and Tobiah (both respective governors/leaders of their areas) grew concerned that someone came to look after the welfare of God’s people (Nehemiah 2:9-10). The governors and leaders of God’s people themselves did not look after the welfare of God’s people, exacting interest and taking their property during a severe famine, rather than helping them get through this.
The second ‘great’ (love your neighbor as yourself) seeks first and foremost the welfare of the New Covenant people of God. We want all God’s best for them in Christ. We wish to serve as a conduit of His love and mercy to all who come our way. All who are hungry, thirsty, hungry, naked, and jailed (see Matthew 25:31-46) are on our radar because we are ultimately serving Jesus.
The witness of God’s people to the nations.
When Nehemiah confronted the leaders about their usury against their own brothers and sisters, he urged them: “Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” (Nehemiah 5:9). The culture watches the church–and for the most part, the church looks so much like the culture that the culture is not impressed. The countercultural nature of the church means we follow God’s Word out of fear and reverence to Him and His holiness.
Christ called us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The nations (as we all were at one time–see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) stand in enmity toward God (Psalm 2:1-3). As Tim Beougher once said, “If you have people shooting at you, don’t give them bullets.” Our worldly actions give the world bullets and an opportunity to say, “See? There’s really no difference. Hypocrites!”
We will not follow the culture’s flow. We will go and make disciples who will follow the ebb and flow of Jesus.
After all, Jesus is enough!
The moment we start doing something that moves toward the will of God in obedience, that’s the moment that others who seek their own selfish aims will resist His will. In Nehemiah 2:9, we see Nehemiah coming to inspect the walls in Jerusalem, complete with letters of transit and protection from the king’s army. He, as we saw two weeks ago, was taking the steps through the door of opportunity that God opened for him. He took action!
In verse 10, our antagonists arrive on stage. Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite heard this, their inner attitude was displeasure. Why? “Someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.” Sanballat was no ordinary fellow, but was governor of Samaria, with Tobiah a fellow official of another territory who had an alliance with Sanballat. They could have been behind the time in Ezra 4:7-23 when they conspired to stop the work of the Temple. In fact, back in 538 BC, almost 100 years earlier, they started rebuilding the wall then, but grew discouraged (which we will address later).
Sanballat, seeing the defenses of Israel being rebuilt, saw this as a catastrophic development. But it began. Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion is, “Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.” While this is a scientific understanding of zero motion, spiritually it’s a little more complex. Christ gives us rest from our sin, yes (Matthew 11:28-30), we can also be at ‘rest’ in our work for Christ. Yet, the more we speak for Christ, the less ‘at rest’ those around us are. Christians tend to agitate and disturb their comfort.
This can happen with believers as well. AW Tozer spoke once in his book on “Rut, Rot, or Revival” talks about the danger of an unexamined life:
An unexamined Christian lies like an unattended garden. Let your garden go unattended for a few months, and you will not have roses and tomatoes but weeds. An unexamined Christian life is like an unkempt house. Lock your house up as tight as you will and leave it long enough, and when you come back you will not believe the dirt that got in from somewhere. An unexamined Christian is like an untaught child. A child that is not taught will be a little savage. It takes examination, teaching, instruction, discipline, caring, tending, weeding and cultivating to keep the life right.”
A critical spirit begins with an unexamined life that naturally drifts toward seeking personal welfare over the welfare of God’s people and our witness to the nations.
What steps are you taking to examine your heart?
I pastor a church in Denver that would be considered ‘established’ (founded in 1960). Even though our church was a plant from another area church, we are far removed from being a church plant.
Yet, what’s exciting is connecting with a church plant. Many times, when churches connect to help with church plants, the idea is to connect with money and prayer–which are critical! Through prayer, God will reveal other ways to tangibly help church plants. Here are some.
- Provide books for the lead guys every month. Likely, church planters are on a shoestring budget personally. While many established churches provide a line-item in their budget for pastors to purchase books for their library, this is not possible for most church plants and planters. Spurgeon alluded to how carpenters have tools, so too pastors have books. Find out what books they need for their library, often one book per month (at least): commentaries, reference books, pastoral/leadership books, etc. And make sure these books are substantial and last, not simply the latest growth gimmick–those fads pass.
- Provide actual tools and people to help them reach their area. What a joy it was in Kentucky for some of our folks to go to Hazard, Kentucky to go and help a church we supported to help them connect with folks at a local festival. What a joy it was to have our people help a church plant here in Denver to pass out flyers to their neighborhood introducing a new work. What a joy to lend a grill for a soccer camp this church plant held so they could feed the 40 kids that showed up. Be present!
- If you go out to eat with them or take them to some other fun event, never, ever let the church planters pay for you. Again, back to the shoestring budget. Church planters sacrifice much in order to establish a gospel presence in a particular setting. Many times, teams come in to help. If you are one of these teams and you go out to eat or some other venture, don’t let them pay for a thing. If you wish to truly minister and serve, then make sure this part is under that serving umbrella.
- Put together videos or Skype saying hello and encouraging them. Personal touches are ideal, but this is the next best thing. If we’re a church plant in Colorado and are partners with a church in Vermont or North Carolina or Florida, weekly ‘touches’ aren’t possible, but monthly or bi-monthly videos are possible. Right now, I’m uploading a video to pastors in Trinidad in preparation for our time together in September. One time soon, we shall Skype together. Hearing from partners personally, seeing faces and hearing tone, fills hearts greatly and encourages them for the work. Plus, it’s an avenue to show the church body those people who make up that partnership.
- Pray that someone from your church may go and become a permanent part of that body. This is radical, but necessary. The partnership may evolve into someone from Vermont, North Carolina, or Florida feeling the call to uproot and re-root to that new church to help them make more hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus. The Great Commission takes many forms!
What other ways could established churches help their church planter partners?