‘An Exercise in Casuistry’ Deuteronomy 4:44-5 :2 April 26, 1992
It is very important that Christians appreciate the nature and significance of the ten commandments. As Deuteronomy has already made clear, in 4: 13, and as the rest of the Bible confirms in many ways, the ten commandments are not simply ten of the many laws which God gave his people, they are not even the ten most important of those laws. The ten commandments are rather a summary, or epitome of the entire will or law of God. All the rest of the commandments in God’s Word are nothing other than applications or elaborations of these fundamental duties. Their character as a general summary is further indicated by the fact that both in the OT and the NT these ten can themselves further be summarized by only two commandments: to love God with all our heart and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Each of the ten commandments, then, is a heading for an entire area of moral duty and purity and comprehends within itself all the casuistry, all the various possible applications of this general principle of holiness and righteousness to the thousand and one questions of daily life. In Exodus and Deuteronomy, for example, we are given many examples of how to apply the sixth commandment — which specifically forbids murder — the various applications clearly demonstrate that the sixth commandment generally requires that we accept responsibility for the life of our neighbor. When you give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person, you are obeying the sixth commandment. When you take care to ensure that your property poses no danger to another person, you are keeping the sixth commandment. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that the sixth commandment requires not only that we don’t actually murder our neighbor, but that we think no hateful thoughts toward him either.
I could preach a number of sermons on the principles furnished in Holy Scripture for the interpretation and application of the ten commandments. But, in the interests of moving on through Deuteronomy, I decided that I would preach but one sermon on the ten commandments, take one commandment and apply it to a specific case ofconscience or ethical question. I could have chosen any of the ten, but I chose the eighth commandment: ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ And I want to apply that moral duty to a contemporary issue. In this way, I want to illustrate the wide-ranging relevance of all the ten commandments.
The eighth commandment comprehends far more than the actual act of theft. Thievery, being the extreme form of sins of this type, serves as a title, or heading for all sins of this class, all sins, whether of commission or omission, against God and our neighbor with regard to money, property, or possessions. If you remember that the law is spiritual, as Paul and Jesus never tired of saying, that its duties and sanctions reach into the heart and govern the motives, you will begin to appreciate how far reaching is the eighth commandment.
It is broken whenever a merchant or seller of services takes advantage of his or her customers and charges more than is right or delivers less than was paid for. It is broken when a worker does not give an employer the eight hours of hard work for which he or she is paid. It is broken whenever a tax-payer hedges even a penny in reporting his taxable income to the government. It is broken when a government takes more taxes than is just from any of its citizens. It is broken when a shopper does not return the extra change she was inadvertently given at the check-out counter. It is broken when we do not take the care we should of our neighbor’s property or look out for it as he would want us to if he were in our shoes. I could go on at length.
As John Calvin put it [Sermons on the Ten Commandments, pp. 190-191]: ‘we will always be thieves if we do not do unto others what we would want them to do unto us’ and ‘whenever we do not render to every man what rightfully belongs to him, God will always regard that iniquity as stealing.’
But to elaborate this particular duty this morning, I have chosen to make use of another example of disobedience to the eighth commandment, an example which is helpful not only because it illustrates the breadth of the moral duty circumscribed by every one of the ten commandments, but because it so well illustrates the perpetual relevance of God’s ancient moral code. And how differently they will thrive and live who honor God’s law. I wish to speak about the Washington State Lottery. I have preached on this subject once before, in 1982, when the Lottery was just being introduced, and am glad for a chance to preach on it ten years later. It provides a perfect opportunity for describing how great is the difference between the ethics of this world and those of the Kingdom of God.
In choosing this means of raising revenue, our State has itself broken the eighth commandment, has flaunted the law of God, and we should not expect that God in his turn will bless us with fiscal prosperity. It is as surely true of states as it is of individuals what Jeremiah said in the Lord’s name [17:11]: ‘Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool.’
I want you to see clearly that the lottery is an evil, a violation of God’s law, especially the eighth commandment (though not only the eighth. For example, it is advertised deceitfully so the lottery violates the ninth commandment; it panders to covetousness and so violates the tenth commandment). It is a sin for the state to sponsor it and it is a sin for anyone to participate in it. Let me show you why.
But first — to some of you what I am about to say may come as a surprise. You have never thought playing the lottery was wrong and beneath the dignity of Christians. That is much more the church’s fault than yours for not clearly standing against the lottery. But you consider the four arguments I will give and trust the Lord to deliver you from any desire to play the lottery again.
First, the lottery violates the eighth commandment because every contribution to it is a violation of the stewardship of that property God has entrusted us with. This is the most simple reason why no state ought to put on games of chance and no citizen ought to participate in them. The chances are very high, in fact astronomically high, that you will love your money. This is obvious. If the vast multitude of participants did not lose their wagers there would not be enough money to pay the one or two substantial winners and still make a large profit for the state.
It is no accident, brothers and sisters, that when state governments had a clearer sense of right and wrong, before they learned to call good evil and evil good, organized crime was heavily involved in lotteries — which were then more accurately called ‘the numbers racket.’ Mobsters were businessmen and they realized that the infinitesimally small chance of striking it rich was enough to cause a great many people literally to throw their money away.
Now, this can never be a matter of indifference to Christians. What we own, the Bible is always reminding us, God has given to us. As Paul puts it: ‘there is nothing that we have which we did not receive from God.’ [l Corinthians 4:7] The farmer often slips into thinking that he owns his flocks and herds, but as God reminds him in Psalm 50: ‘every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills…the world is mine and all that it contains.’ And what God has given us, we are also reminded over and again, is a stewardship. We are to use God’s gifts for God’s purposes. The Apostle Paul again: ‘Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.’
Brothers and sisters, it is a simple impossibility to justify participation in a lottery as a wise and holy stewardship of what God has entrusted to you. The simple fact is that you are wasting his money; the odds are prohibitively against your receiving more in return that you have paid. God was angry with the unjust steward in his parable because he simply buried the money he had been given to steward and did not invest it. But the lottery-player won’t even have his same dollar to give back to the Lord, he not only fails to use it wisely, he loses it.
Don’t let any Christian dare say that such a gamble is permitted because, after all, it is only a small sum of money, a dollar, or ten, or twenty, or a few hundred a year. That means only that it is a smaller sin than some. It is still an offense against God’s law, it is still miserable stewardship, and to justify the wrong by its size only demonstrates that we do not yet grasp the true nature of sin nor its power to entangle the heart and mind. John Rogers, the Puritan, had an acquaintance who once told him: ‘You are in all things a most agreeable person, but you are so precise.’ To which Rogers replied: ‘But, sir, I serve a precise God.’ Rogers had learned the lesson many more Christians need desperately to learn today if holiness would once again thrive in the church: ‘he who would be faithful in much, must be faithful in little.’
The lottery breaks the eighth commandment, then, first of all, because to play it we must misuse, waste, and squander what God has given us to use aright. The whole existence of the lottery is suspended on the confidence that a great many people are sufficiently greedy to waste their money.
In the second place, the lottery violates the eighth commandment because it breaks the divinely ordained connection between money and labor. The lottery excites people, of course, precisely because if offers great wealth for no work. Buy a ticket with the right number and, presto!, you are a wealthy person. The winner has done nothing for that money; he has not earned it; he does not deserve it in any meaningful sense of the term; he gave nothing of value in exchange for it. It is given him according to the luck of the draw.
To our world this seems a harmless enough thing. After all, everyone is free to play or not as he or she chooses. But this appears harmless only because our world has lost all sense of the purpose of human life as God created it. God made men and women to work, to labor, to do something useful with their lives. As Paul puts it so clearly in Ephesians 4:28: ‘let him who stole, steal no more, but let him work, doing something useful…’ The opposite of stealing, of breaking the eighth commandment, you see, is working and spending one’s time and labor usefully.
One of the universal consequences of the fall was to make mankind discontented with God’s purpose for our lives. He would have us work, six days of the seven in every week. But we would rather play, rather have our needs met by an ever decreasing amount of work.
Can anyone, would anyone dispute that one of the great problems facing our society is a growing unwillingness on the part of man to work and to work hard and productively for their living? Our divine calling as workers has been largely lost sight of. We work today because we must have the money, the leisure time, the power, the prestige, and so on, that we desire. If these things could be got without work, an ever increasing proportion of our society would be happy not to work at all. The lottery thus expresses our society’s values: money without working for it!
But the lottery also reinforces these selfish and self-indulgent values. There is not over much of the thinking of the late sociologist Margaret Mead that I admire, but on one matter she was astute enough. When once asked: ‘What’s wrong with a young boy winning $100 at Bingo?’ she replied, ‘That boy will never again be content to deliver newspapers for $1 per week.’ Martin Luther once wrote, ‘Work is holy. It is the hidden mask behind which the hidden God gives us what we need.’
The lottery, and all forms of gambling, every riches-without-work scheme, contradict and undermine the sanctity of work as the divine calling of all human beings. True enough, God sometimes gives wealth, even sudden wealth, to people without their earning it. but it is a vastly different thing for God to give wealth without work than for us to seek wealth without work. The former is beneficence, the latter is treason!
Let every Christian who contemplates playing the lottery remember what we are taught in Proverbs: ‘the lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord.’ If you play the lottery, knowing that the outcome is, as is everything else, under God’s control, you are effectively asking God to reward you for doing nothing. Can you pray that prayer? ‘Lord, bless me as I seek to get rich without working.’
Here then are the first two reasons why playing the lottery is a sin against the eighth commandment: it is miserable stewardship, a theft of what God has given you; and, it is an attempt to break the connection which God as established between work and wealth. Significant as these first two reasons are, they pale in comparison with the next two reasons why no Christian should give one dime to the Washington State Lottery.
In the third place, participation in the lottery is a violation of the eighth commandment because it expresses discontent with God’s provision. Here is the eighth commandment reaching down to govern the motives and intents of the heart! Just as lustful thoughts violate the seventh commandment, so acquisitive and grasping thoughts violate the eighth. Why does anyone steal? Because he wants more than he has and theft, he thinks, is the easiest way to get it. Why does anyone play the lottery? People play the lottery because they would rather be rich. They would rather have more money than they now have, however much or little that may be. In other words, they are willing to give up what God has given them in order to have a chance, an infinitesimally small chance, to obtain what God has not given them.
Paul wrote: ‘godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ I submit to you that such is not the view of the one who buys a lottery ticket. Nor is the man who buys a ticket able to say: ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ If he didn’t really want to be richer than he was, he wouldn’t throw away his money on the ridiculously tiny possibility of striking it rich.
Were God to have made you rich, that would be one thing — you would then be under a solemn obligation to use your wealth for the glory of God and the good of his Kingdom. But, if he has not made you wealthy, your duty is to be content with the station he has assigned you and to work hard and be faithful in it. Perhaps God will reward your industry and inventiveness with increasing wealth; perhaps not. But it is God’s place to change our measure of wealth not ours to seek to change it.
You see this principle wonderfully illustrated in the Puritans of the 17th century England and North America. They became, as people, quite well-to-do, not because they sought wealth, for they did not. They sought to be faithful stewards of the gifts and opportunities God gave them, to work hard and honestly as pleases the Lord, and to produce something worthwhile. Their prosperity was, as it were, the after-effect of their faithfulness, a reward from God for their industry and for their contentment with his provision, whatever it may have proved to be. Like Solomon, they prayed for wisdom and faithfulness, and God added prosperity.
In Phillip Doddridge’s classic The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, he teaches us to pray this prayer:
‘Give me, O Lord! to know the station in which thou hast fixed me, and steadily pursue the duties of it! But deliver me from those excessive cares of this world, which would so engross my time and my thoughts, that “the one thing needful” should be forgotten! May my desires after worldly possessions be moderated, by considering their uncertain and unsatisfying nature; and, while others are laying up treasures on earth, may I be rich towards God.’
That is a Christian prayer — it rises from faith in a God-fearing heart. But, I don’t believe that anyone could pray
such a prayer while buying a lottery ticket or while day-dreaming about the money one might win. Nor can one follow in Christ’s footsteps while playing the lottery. All the wealth of all worlds belonged to our Savior by right of ownership, yet he cheerfully accepted the lot his Father had ordered for him: he was born in a borrowed barn, paid his taxes with borrowed money, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, and was buried in a borrowed grave.
What followers of Christ do we prove ourselves to be if we would rather have another lot than the one our heavenly Father has given us, if we would rather be rich? Are we not chafing under his rule and doubting both his wisdom and his goodness. We have no business doing either.
Finally, in the fourth place, participating in the lottery is a violation of the eighth commandment because it assumes that a financial windfall is a good thing. Once again the eighth commandment reaches down to judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Why does someone play the lottery? Is it not universally because he or she supposes that it would be a good thing, a wonderful thing, to win a million dollars. Even many who do not participate in such games of chance do so only because they are wise enough to know that the chances of winning are too small to justify even a small investment. But, were these people somehow to be assured of winning they would gladly participate.
Beloved, this is the Devil, the world, and our own flesh beguiling us! I say, no Christian should spend one dollar in the lottery even if assured in advance that he or she would get the winning ticket.
There is only one safe way to become rich — and that is by God giving you wealth while you are living uprightly before him, serving him faithfully, and resting entirely content with whatever measure of his provision he has afforded you at that moment. A passage of Scripture with which 20th century American Christians, alas, are not very familiar is the prayer of Agur, found in Proverbs 30:7-9:
‘Two things I ask of you, 0 Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood •and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.’
There it is, in Holy Scripture itself: ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches.’ What is more, the similarity of those words of Agur about God giving him daily bread to the words Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer — ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ — suggest that when we pray, as in the Lord’s Prayer, for our daily bread, we are praying, not only that the Lord would give us what we need, but also that he would not give us more than we need.
God often gives us more than we need, because he is generous, and sometimes gives Christians wealth. But nowhere are we permitted to seek such wealth for ourselves or to pray for it. And the reason for that is obvious. The most dangerous position in all the world is that of the rich man or woman — it is harder for them than for any others to enter the kingdom of heaven — so said the Lord Jesus himself. Paul speaks of wealth and the desire for it plunging many into ruin.
His wealth becomes a snare, a trap. Faith, always difficult, becomes impossible because he is blinded by his riches and finds it too easy to trust himself to them. The faith of so many was shipwrecked by wealth and the pleasures and positions which wealth makes possible in this world. It is hard to keep one’s eye fixed on the world to come, when it is bedazzled by all that money can buy.
I tell you, the person who thinks a lottery windfall a good thing has little of Christ’s mind and cares much more for the pleasures of this world than for the treasure of heaven and the safety of his or her own soul. Let a person think about ‘Eternity’, and heaven and hell, and the deceitfulness of sin and the prevalence and power of temptation, and that person will be more likely repelled by the thought of winning the lottery than excited by it. And if you are not yet so repelled, well think of this. According to our Savior’s own words and those of the Apostle Paul and according to the simple observation of wise people through the centuries, I think we can hardly deny that virtually every time we hear the name of a new winner of a multi-million dollar jackpot we are hearing the name of someone who is going to hell.
And, if you are still seeking to evade the force of these considerations by saying to yourself: ‘Ah, but I would give much of my winnings to the church for its work!’ Think again. First, if that’s truly the case then you don’t need to enter the lottery, because God already owns everything and is perfectly able to supply his church’s needs without his people making him look foolish. And second, the church doesn’t want your winnings.
Later in Deuteronomy (23:18) we will read: ‘You must not bring the earnings of a prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord detests them.’ If a prostitute’s earnings are not acceptable for the funding of the house of the Lord, then neither are gambling winnings. Malcolm Muggeridge indicated the similarity of those sources of income when he with real insight called gambling ‘the pornography of cupidity.’
A Christian who participates in the lottery dishonors the Lord by suggesting that he has not provided for you as he should, dishonors the faith by suggesting that Christians are just as eager for riches as anyone else, dishonors God’s Word which teaches us to seek first the Kingdom of God and leave it to God to determine the measure of our earthly prosperity, and finally, willingly puts his or her own soul further at risk. Rich men are seldom carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The Christian who in spite of all this wishes still to be rich is the person we must pray never is granted his wish! It would destroy him or her for sure.
I know that this comes as something quite new to some of you. I appreciate the fact that the church has not made the Bible’s position clear as it should have. But, from now on, let us all behave like the sons and daughters of the Almighty that we are and never again go groveling to the lottery as if we needed or even wanted the hope
of worldly wealth it sells so deceitfully. As Calvin put it, the sin of the eighth commandment is seeking to gain for ourselves what isn’t ours. We have the Lord himself and heaven. We ought to have a holy disdain for the lottery foolish people waste their money on in the hope of getting rich. And what a great opportunity the lottery will often provide you to bear your Christian witness to others, when you tell them why you don’t play.
Let the world know that our trust is in the Lord our God, who will give us exactly what we ought to have, and that we, as joint-heirs with Christ, are perfectly willing to wait for our inheritance in the world to come, an inheritance which will make the largest lottery jackpot seem like small change!