Great question! First, let’s define the boundaries in which we are studying this issue. There are two categories of sins: sins specifically mentioned in the Bible, and sins that are ruled out on general principles. When the Bible doesn’t give a specific injunction or prohibition on a given topic, the Bible student who truly desires to know and follow God’s will will seek to understand the operative elements of the given subject and what the fundamental principles of God’s word say about those. In other words, we must apply he principles of God’s word, not just prohibitions. Since gambling is not mentioned in scripture (to my knowledge), we have to decide this based on the principles of God’s word.
We first need to understand the basic elements, operations, and effects of gambling in order to apply the principles. Let’s first tackle gambling as a whole, then gambling in moderation. As you know, the underlying principle of how gambling works, and the reasons it’s so popular, is that it offers a monetary reward without actually having to work for it. This is extremely enticing and addictive. I don’t need to tell you that many people have squandered their livelihoods and ruined their ability to provide for their families in this means. Spending a little money to possibly receive a much greater amount results in the person throwing away far more money than they receive. Gambling creates a strong love for money in the gamblers heart. It pushes one to make money and it’s benefits the all-consuming point to one’s life. We also see that gambling is closely associated with many other addictive and destructive habits like alcohol, illicit sex, and drugs.
The three most significant negatives to gambling are the addictive nature, the incitement of a love for money, and the wasting of one’s money. So what are the biblical principles in regards to these elements?
“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.” 1 Timothy 6:10
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15)
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
“Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.” (Proverbs 28:19)
From these verses, it is clear that loving money brings a lot of evil. Specifically notice the verse in Proverbs that speaks to chasing fantasies. Steadily working for ones needs rather than chasing “get rich quick” schemes tends to work out much better for people in the long run. It is also good to note that a love for money tends to separate a person from fulfilling the gospel commission.
The addictive nature of gambling cannot be understated. Addictive substances that can lead to negative results are condemned in scripture. Notice alcohol, for instance. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). We also see the effects of others in the Bible who drank to their destruction. (Genesis 9:20-26; 19:30-38, 2 Samuel 11:13, etc…) Alcohol is always treated as a bad thing in scripture, and no exemption is given for even a moderate consumption. So we see that the Bible condemns addictive substances that have harmful effects.
We also have to note how much money the gambler will waste. Let’s be real, the house always wins in the end. They are exceptionally good money-makers because they know that they will get more money than they give. It’s just simple business. Conversely, many people who gamble a lot will end up losing vast amounts of money while getting very little in return. For one who has been tasked with providing for their family, for helping the poor, and for providing for the work of the gospel ministry, how can this be seen as a beneficial endeavor?
Now, it seems that you have a recognition that gambling with lots of money is not necessarily a good thing, which is why you asked specifically about small amounts of money with a small group of friends. So let’s address this. There are three basic objections I see to this.
Firstly, there is the issue of the example that it gives to others. You may feel that you can always control your gambling and that you will never experience its negative results. But what about your kids? What about your friends? Chances are, they won’t all be able to control themselves in the same way. Now, your example has given them the feeling that gambling is okay. In other words, you’ve become a stumbling block for someone else. And that’s a very high price to pay for a little fun. Ruining another’s life and endangering their eternal salvation is never an acceptable risk.
Secondly, there’s the issue of the cost to benefit ratio. What actual good are you deriving from gambling now and then? It gives relaxation, time with friends, etc…, but these are all elements that can easily be obtained with far less objectionable games and recreational activities. For the cost, however, do you really want to pay the price of training your loved ones to have a gambling addiction? Do you really want to dance with creating an inordinate love of money in your heart? Do you really want to chance an addiction to gambling that will cause you to lose so much of your life? To me, the benefits just aren’t worth the risk.
Lastly, and maybe most significantly, it is clear that Satan uses gambling to destroy countless lives. Based on the highly unbiblical and destructive nature of it, I’m confident in saying that it is the invention of Satan himself. So why would I partake in even the smallest degree of something demonic? If we are to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), should we not also avoid even small amounts of things that are actually evil? Because of this, I find it necessary not only to abstain myself, but also to protest its use. The Christian who desires to see others saved should exert his influence against all behaviors that would lead people onto Satan’s ground.
To sum it all up, gambling conflicts with many significant principles of Christian life found in the Bible. It is a highly addictive behavior that leads many to an inordinate love of money and also to squandering resources that often leads to poverty. Because of this, it is unwise to associate ourselves even in the least degree with gambling, and furthermore to protest it and humbly seek to lead others into more beneficial ways of enjoying life and providing for their financial needs.
I hope this can be of help to you. God bless you as you seek to live a life pleasing to God.