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Taking Personal Responsibility as a Christian:

Interest, Bankruptcy, Gambling, and Employment

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Question #1: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill: Does scripture prohibit us as followers of Christ from earning interest on our money? It seems (to me) that in the Law of Moses the children of Israel were only prohibited from lending to other "Jews" at interest, but in Ezekiel 18 taking interest on money is treated as a great evil... right up there with adultery... and nothing is mentioned about the borrower's race. Jesus said to lend to those who ask you. Are we sinning if we put cash in an interest bearing account or CD, or if we take out a mortgage (causing someone else to sin)?

Response #1: 

This is a good question. For while it is true that it would be difficult for most of us with normally complicated lives to function in modern day society if we were excluded completely from any situation where commercial lending and borrowing takes place, it really is still what scripture says that should guide us, rather than the exigencies of our situation. Indeed, if a total "no interest" approach were adopted, it is hard to see how we could be completely pure in this respect. Take pension plans, for example. For those of us who have a traditional pension or are working towards one, it is invariably the case that these are dependent upon financial instruments of this very kind. Even social security, while it is not technically so funded, does not operate independently of government finance (and the U.S. government is the largest issuer of bonds in the world). In the highly complex economy of today, there are many places where we would run afoul of this rule, if it were indeed meant to be applied in this way.

My belief is that such a broad application of the scriptural prohibition against charging interest is not warranted. Your point about Ezekiel 18:7-8 (also Ezek.18:13 and 22:12) it well taken. But does this apply to having an interest bearing checking account? I don't believe so. The reason for my belief is that in all of the passages of scripture which deal with this subject the ground for the prohibition is "taking advantage" of a helpless person. In Exodus 22:25, the one being protected from having to pay interest is "the poor [person]" (cf. Prov.28:8), and the charge is given, as all biblical commands are, to individuals tempted to do so (cf. Lev.25:35-37; Deut.23:19-20; Ps.15:5).

Some scholars have found evidence to suggest that the Hebrew words used in Ezekiel and elsewhere for this practice, neshekh (lit., "bite") and tarbhith ("increase") imply excessive interest rather than a reasonable rate. The most persuasive argument in favor of this view is that fact that the Law provides regulations for Israelites who become slaves for economic reasons (Ex.21:2-11; Deut.15:12-18; Lev.25:39-55; cf. Prov.22:7). But I am skeptical. On the one hand, all interest "bites", and all loans made on interest yield "increase". On the other, people can default on no-interest loans just as well as on those that charge excessive interest if they fall on hard times and can't even pay back the principle.

Perhaps the key passage to consider in all this is in Leviticus:

Now if your brother is brought low (i.e., falls on hard times), and his hand loses its grasp (i.e., loses his ability to meet his obligations) relative to you, then you shall grant him relief (as [you would]) a resident alien in order that he may continue to abide and live among you. Do not take interest or profit (neshekh and tarbhith) from him, but fear your God, so that [the poor person] may continue to live among you.
Leviticus 25:35-36

Here we can see clearly the biblical rationale for the "no interest" rule: when dealing with your brothers and sisters in the Lord (as all Israel was supposed to be according to the Law), we are not to take advantage of them. We are to extend to them at least the level of mercy that we would give to others who are in trouble (in this case, resident aliens; in our case, unbelievers). The idea here is that a person who has to borrow money from us personally is in serious trouble and if we want to help them in a godly way, the last thing we ought to do is to charge them interest. This is really the essence of all the Old Testament passages which deal with this issue.

Our Lord always cuts to the essential truth of such things, and His words in Luke 6:34-36 comport well with the above explanation. If we would be perfect in this matter, what is required is not to avoid all commercial transactions involving interest directly or indirectly (cf. *Matt.25:27!), but only to "lend" to our brothers in need, even when we have no assurance of ever getting the money back. That is what it is to show true mercy to those in trouble (Lk.34:36) – not only not taking economic advantage, but being willing to suffer loss for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, should it come to that. After all, in many case we will (or should) give our help as a gift rather than as a loan (to the extent that we are able to do so).

This may seem like a "hard saying", but God knows all, and He is more than capable of providing for all of our needs, even in those situations where we do not get paid back in kind by the person him or herself, whether or not there was a specific agreement to do so, formal or informal. Any honorable person will, of course, pay back what is due without our having to ever say a thing (cf. Ps.37:21). And it should be noted too that when Jesus tells us to "give to whomever asks and don't turn away from whomever wants to borrow from you" (Matt.5:42), we are definitely not told that such a person gets to set the level of our beneficence (cf. 2Cor.8:13-15). God knows that we all have need of material things too (Matt.6:31-32). He is more than able to make our seed abound (2Cor.9:10-11), and much more likely to do so if we have proved generous with what we have been given (2Cor.9:6).

When extrapolating biblical principles to matters of everyday mundane practice there is always a danger of losing the individual focus and making a collective application (not what you are doing, but worth pointing out in this context). For example, to take this principle and try to apply it nationally or globally would of necessity include getting involved in political activism. Now there may very well be a case to be made from principles of essential justice in scripture (or even from the passages above) that interests rates should be limited domestically or that poor nations should get a break internationally. But in my considered view, this is exactly the sort of reaction that Satan craves. For it will not be long before both the means employed and the other motivations behind launching or participating in any such movement will dally with, come to embrace, and eventually fall head over heels in love with evil.

As in any ministry, what we do as individuals for individuals is important and a matter of the greatest concern. That is the level on which God wants us to operate and to put our emphasis. Anything larger, anything political, almost certainly will come to no good.

In the One who freely gave to us all that He had and made us rich forever by making Himself poor, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

I have been discussing this with a close friend of mine and I have no advice to give him, so I ask a second opinion. My friend has recently gone into surgery and is not able to pay for the costs.
Basically, the hospital is going to drive him to Bankruptcy which is something he has never considered doing before, but is a way of getting out of this debt. His hospital charity program refused to consider him because he had minor health insurance, which was little. He doesn't have much money in my account at the moment. He tells me that doesn't know if he'll ever climb out of this pit he's in. It would literally take him the rest of my life to pay them off. And even if he were to get married one day, his children would be out of luck if he died, because the hospital would come after all the assets he had in order to collects much as they could.

So his question is, would it be wrong for him to declare bankruptcy? He knows that it would definitely look bad on the credit applications. He also desires to get into ministry someday, and it may be a stumbling block for his ministry having declared bankruptcy. He wants to know if it is wrong to declare bankruptcy in this situation, and would he be sinning in doing so?

He struggles with this just thinking about it. On the one hand, he would love to be able to pay this debt off by the sweat of my brow, and to see this debt paid in full. But on the other hand, he realizes that this is a rather unrealistic expectation on his part. He believes that God can move this mountain, but what is His will? What would God want him to do? He just can't seem to escape the notion that bankruptcy may be his only option. What do you suggest?

Response #2:

First, I don't entirely understand what the quote you include means. Is this other person suggesting that Philippians 4:19 is saying that a person should not declare bankruptcy because then they would not be acting in faith since they disbelieve God's promise to provide? If so, I would have to say that I don't necessarily accept such logic. I do not doubt God's ability to provide. But I also acknowledge that there are some circumstances in which believers find themselves destitute. There may be a variety of reasons for this, not all of which can be attributed to spiritual failure. For example, God used famine to bring Jacob and his sons down to Egypt where Israel could grow rapidly under the protection of Joseph's regime and become large enough to "inherit the land" several generations later. God allowed the devil to impoverish Job in order to demonstrate Job's faith and God's goodness and ability to turn any situation completely around. When it comes to the application of truth to questionable and complicated circumstances, as I always say, it is often only the person in question who, in consultation with his/her conscience and the ministry of the Spirit and in careful consideration of all that the Bible has to say on the subject and related issues, has a chance of making a "right decision". Only God knows all the spiritual facts, and it is very dangerous for anyone else – especially an uniformed third party – to assume that they have such things completely figured out (cf. Job 38-42).

It is at least arguable that in some severe cases, "bankruptcy" may be part of the provision that God has for the needs of the person in question. In Old Testament times, there was full forgiveness of debt every seventh year (Deut.15:1-9), while every fiftieth year was supposed to be a "year of Jubilee" (Lev.25:10) wherein all lands were restored – not out the goodness of the hearts of the creditors, but because this was commanded as part of the Law. Of course, through hard-heartedness this part of the Law (along with the Sabbath year) was apparently never put into practice and that failure was at least in part responsible for the 70 years of captivity Israel had to endure during the Babylonian captivity (cf. Lev.26:34-35). In the ancient world including ancient Israel, there was, of course, no "bankruptcy". If a person could not pay off their debts, they were enslaved, often along with their entire family. Paul tells us very clearly in 1st Corinthians 7:23 not to become slaves (i.e., don't sell yourself into slavery for, e.g., some charitable purpose; cf. 1Cor.13:3). From this we can certainly imply that no one should go into bankruptcy if they have a reasonable alternative.

It might be well to consider the example of Abraham. Often God's testing of us occurs in ways we don't anticipate. It is not uncommon for believers to face problems which have no clear solution. Rather than becoming desperate, we should remember at such times that God's strength is made perfect in weakness. Unless we really are at "the end of our rope", how tough is the test? Doesn't it make sense that for us to really demonstrate that we trust God more than what our eyes can see, that this would need to be in a situation where for all the world to behold there is no earthly solution? It is at precisely such times that God does His most miraculous works. Sometimes it seems that the Lord wants us to get to the place of trusting Him and obeying Him completely with aggressive faith that flies entirely in the face of the reality the world sees. Sometimes it seems God wants us to set our jaws and embrace the seemingly inevitable disaster with complete and illogical confidence that in spite of everything He will deliver. At God's command, Abraham took his son Isaac up Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him. From a worldly standpoint, when God first told him to do it, all would have seemed lost. When he took the three day journey to the mountain and God did not rescind the order or bring about a deliverance, things with fleshly eyes looked even bleaker. And when he went up the mountain, tied Isaac to the altar, and raised up the knife to slay him, it was all over – except that at that very moment God did deliver him, sparing the boy. In fact, Abraham was prepared to go all the way down this road to the end, confident that even if Isaac did die, God could raise him from the dead (Heb.11:19). If we don't go down that road with Abraham all the way to the end, wherever that end may be, how can we really know what God will or won't do for us? In Abraham's case, and in all such situations, bailing out early through lack of faith only takes away any opportunity of trusting God in extreme circumstances. Any immature believer can "trust God" in something over which they have some measure of control where the stakes are not that high. But what about when there is no human solution and the stakes are life and death? That is when we find out what our faith is really made of. That is really the essence of “waiting on the Lord” (e.g., Ps.27:14).

Naturally, this is the stuff of spiritual maturity and so not for everyone. Also, I hasten to add, that I am not giving advice to your friend here because I honestly don't know what "the right thing to do" is in his particular situation. That is for him to decide. What I do know and what I am saying is that in each and every case, once we have concluded what it really is that God would have us to do, then there is really nothing else for it but to do that thing and leave the consequences in God's hands, remembering that there is in truth absolutely nothing to fear, because He is in control no matter what our eyes and ears tell us. That is really the only way to build faith, pass tests, and glorify God. None of us is perfect in this regard. Abraham had notable failures as well. But when we do pass one of these extreme tests by trusting God completely all the way to the end, it has marvelously wonderful results, for spiritual growth and for spiritual production as well.

One last word on this from a practical point of view. If your friend is seriously contemplating bankruptcy, I would urge him to look into it carefully first. As I understand it, the recent changes in the law of several years ago made several categories of bills exempt from being expunged, and medical bills was, I think, one of those categories. It seems to that, if true, it might not do him any good in his particular situation.

In our Lord Jesus, for whom nothing is impossible.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

A brother in Christ gave another view which he believes is scriptural, he said:

"Nobody has used Leviticus chapter 25 wherein God laid down laws to govern personal debt how we are to deal with the poor who couldn't pay what they owed. We must remember that God never the debtor that if they use the system He established they don't have enough faith for truly this wasn't a matter of faith, but of ones ability to pay. It is interesting that the method established by God to eliminate debt was a combination of personal items being sold, homes (in the city being sold), land being leased, debtor indentured to the lender (but governed) and finally Jubilee. This pretty much established the biblical principle of forgiveness of debt at least once in a person's life and it also established the principle responsibility for debt. Our current bankruptcy laws are designed to make the debtor accountable for willful debt and in my opinion medical bills are not willful debt."

Response #3:

I'm not sure what this person is saying about Lev.25 from what you have included here except that they don't seem to have understood what I wrote on the subject. I'm happy to explain again, but some clarification on the nature of the objection would save time.

On medical bills,

1) I think the distinction between "willful" and "non-willful" debt will not pass muster in practical terms. One can make an argument to exclude almost everything from "necessary debt" including medical treatment – if one does not have the money, why is one incurring an expense one cannot pay? And one can make an argument including almost everything in "necessary debt" – if I didn't have this car, I couldn't have found work, commuted in a timely fashion, had the time to hold everything together, etc. What is necessary and unnecessary to me may not be so to you, and there is really no biblical place to draw this line. Also, and even more importantly, the Bible doesn't make this distinction, so including this false distinction in the discussion is questionable.

2) God does provide, but that doesn't mean He always provides in the manner we want or at the time and place of our choosing. Sometimes we are being tested. Sometimes we are being disciplined. Sometimes we are just experiencing the consequences of life as we are living it (which may not be out and out sinful but still has financial consequences which are unexpected and unpleasant). We must not blame God; we need to trust God; judging things as a third party or judging things before the matter has played itself out are both dangerous propositions. Ideally, we pay our bills. Realistically, we live in a country with an economy where people have financial disasters all the time. This is a country of laws, and we are responsible to God to obey them. We should not try and evade income tax even if we feel it violates biblical principles. Likewise, there is an argument to be made that we should not be dogmatically restricted from declaring bankruptcy according to the law if our situation demands it. Ideally, if I am sick, I pray to the Lord and He heals me. That does not mean that if I go to a doctor when I am in seriously ill health that I lack faith. Ideally, if I have a problem at work, I pray to the Lord and He delivers me. That does not mean that in an extreme circumstance if I am about to lose my livelihood through illegal actions against me that I am foreclosed by the fact that I am Christian from getting a lawyer and legal help. If I live in a bad neighborhood I put my faith in God to protect me. That does not mean I don't lock my doors, or that I would not call 911 if someone tried to break in. It is very easy for me, if/when I am under no particular financial pressure, to tell you, if/when you are under severe financial pressure, not to declare bankruptcy whatever the consequences to you and your family may be of following my dogmatic advice about your situational problem – just as it is easy for me to tell you not to go to the doctor, not to get a lawyer, not to call the police, not to use any indirect means whatsoever because then you lack faith. But in my observation and experience, the people who are so vociferously dogmatic about these issues are generally the first ones to avail themselves of all the professional and worldly help they can find when the shoe is on the other foot. Clearly, it is better to pay one's debts, just as it is always better to do the simple thing, the faith thing, the uncomplicated thing. But real life is not uncomplicated. We live in world populated by evil people (people, for example, who would swear they have dedicated their lives to healing you, then would charge you 10 million dollars to save your life and hound you to the ends of the earth when you can't pay). We live in a world controlled in large measure by the evil one. And we are far from perfect ourselves. Our understanding of the will of God for our personal lives is incomplete and faulty in most cases because in most cases in this lukewarm era in which we live we only ever think about God when we get into trouble. On top of that we are sinners – all of us. And worse sinners than we have to be, even if we are among the small cadre of believers who are definitely and conscientiously trying to grow spiritually and follow our Lord, helping others to do the same. This is a recipe for complications. God is always with us. God will always deliver us. But how and where and when are not always in our power to know up front (and certainly not in our power to control). Therefore it would certainly be prudent for us to strive in matters of some question when it comes to things scripture is not dogmatic about to give other people at least as much "benefit of the doubt" as we would surely give ourselves. Finally, whatever trouble we face, or anticipate facing, or contemplate the possibility of facing in the future, it is also better to do so with our relationship with Jesus Christ rock-solid – and that requires serious, diligent, dedicated, prior spiritual growth (as always, hearing, believing, and living the truth is the ultimate answer to everything).

3) I didn't write the new bankruptcy law, and, for what it is worth, I personally have some real problems with it. But that is not at all the point. Like it or not, I believe I am correct in stating that the new law holds a person responsible for medical bills even after bankruptcy, so that if your friend or anyone else is contemplating bankruptcy to get out from under medical bills, he/she/they ought to research this point because otherwise they may just be making things worse for themselves: ruined credit, no way to rent an apartment any more, many employers now won't consider you, no way to get a loan or credit card – and there is the not insignificant question of whether or not the person in question really thinks it's the right thing to do. Let's not lose sight of that important fact. If you think it's wrong to do, then do not do it. Trust God to provide alternative ways out of the fix. This may be a test, and no third party can make this determination for the person in question.

In Jesus who truly is all sufficient for our needs if we but hold fast to our faith in His deliverance.

Bob L.

Question #4: 

This Pastor responded as follows: "If God cannot provide for us then I believe it puts a bad testimony on the Greatness of our God. Basically, there are 2 types of debt. 1. A debt that is unavoidable because of circumstances beyond our control (loss of Job, health, etc) 2. Debts that are avoidable due to irresponsible spending. The bible makes it clear that we are to owe no man
anything. That if we are in debt we are enslaved to the person we are in debt to. What we need to
understand is that we are responsible as individuals for the debt that we create. If I purchase a van, then it is my obligation to to pay for it - simple principle. If we buy that van and then say, "I don't have to pay for it," that's the problem with bankruptcy. Whether our debts are unavoidable or avoidable, unless the creditor forgives those debts, we are obligated to pay off our debts. This may mean selling all that we have to pay off the debt. This may mean eating peanut butter and jelly twice a day to pay this debt off. However, these debts are our responsibility. What's so wonderful about being a child of God is that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us. Romans
8:28 tells us that "All things work together for Good". Philippians tells us that God will make provision for all of our needs. In Matt 6 it tells us that God will provide for our needs because we are more important to him than the flowers of the field or the birds Scripture says to "cast all of our cares upon him, for he cares for us". We are to take our burdens to him. There are numerous examples in the Bible of God providing our needs as individuals. Elijah was fed by ravens. A widow woman then fed him who was about to eat her last meal and then die. God provided for not only the preacher, but the woman who by faith gave her last meal away. We serve a mighty God who is sovereign over all. Declaring Bankruptcy says that God cannot handle our problems, so let's go to the courts and let them erase your debt. It is possible to get out of debt. It will take a lot of time, sacrifice and hard work. We must allow the Word of God to govern our lives completely. God's Word is sure and we need to trust him to get us through the difficult times in our life."

Response #4:

It seems we are going around in circles a bit here. I certainly don't have any problem with a person reading scripture and making this application for themselves as it is written up here. What I would be reluctant to do is to accept this as a dogmatic interpretation of everything that scripture says about the subject, then applying it universally regardless of circumstances.

Clearly, it is better not to be in debt in the first place. Who would argue with that? But is this person saying we are wrong to take out student loans? We are wrong to have a credit card? We are wrong to finance our house over time and should only consider buying a home if we have all the money in a lump up front? Even if we do all these things, that doesn't mean we wouldn't possibly find ourselves in debt. The way our society and government are organized, if a person owns anything at all, it will have expenses attached to it, and it will have taxes attached to it. People who have never technically borrowed a nickel in their lives still occasionally lose their homes, cars, other property when they lose their jobs and find themselves unable to pay the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill, the phone bill, the insurance bill, and the various tax bills that always accrue. Is this person saying that such a thing could never happen to a believer? If so, then he has never read the book of Job, for example. Unless we are living as hobos, in this society even without borrowing money ever we can still find ourselves in debt. Apropos of your original question is the issue of medical bills. We may not owe a nickel, but then we get sick and without insurance, or in cases where the insurance won't cover our specific condition or won't cover everything that is done for us (and both of these situations are increasingly more common with the current state of our health-care system), we find ourselves owing more money than we can ever pay back, especially if we have lost our livelihoods as a result of the illness.

So I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be arguing for or explaining here. Clearly, there will be times when a Christian finds him/herself in dire need with no way out. I don't suggest or recommend bankruptcy as a solution, especially in instances where, I repeat for the third time, it may well be the case that there is no relief even in bankruptcy since the law, I believe, now holds people responsible for medical bills even after bankruptcy in most instances. But I do not discount the possibility that there may be some instances where bankruptcy may be the only course left.

But as to the issue of necessary vs. unnecessary debt, I do not find this distinction in the Bible. For one thing, I think it would be a very difficult distinction to maintain in any case, since, as I have said, what I might consider unnecessary for you as I sit comfortably in my La-z-boy might seem necessary to you, and you might be much more stingy with my "necessities" if it were up to you to evaluate me. It is hard to survive in even a marginal way in our high-tech modern society without some basic things: home, car, clothes, and all the odds and end that make a person presentable to have a chance in a job interview, for instance. Clearly there are ways to be economical, but as I describe above, it is very easy in this highly expensive society to fall through the crack if you miss a beat.

Now if this person whom you quote has never taken out a credit card, always buys cars and homes with cash only, has never borrowed money for any purpose, lives an extremely frugal life, and uses his excess income to help others who have financial troubles rather than spending it on needless luxuries like televisions, barbecue grills, boats, vacations, entertainment, etc., then he may have a consistent basis from which to preach that bankruptcy is never justified under any circumstances whatsoever. If this is not the case – and, honestly, even if it is – it should be admitted that sometimes despite our best efforts at stewardship we may find ourselves under the gun financially (i.e., even if you follow the above ideal, as demonstrated, you can still lose your shirt). This may come through testing. Or it may be that we have made some mistakes, financial mistakes. Or it may just be that, given the nature of our society and economy, we like almost all of our fellow citizens are "working without a net", meaning, if we get sick or if we lose our jobs, chances are good that things will fall apart for us financially. I think it is very imprudent to say this will never happen to a true Christian, or to say that in no case will God's solution involve the use of bankruptcy. I would certainly hope a brother or sister would not have to go this route – it has, as I have related previously, many terrible side-effects that many people don't consider ahead of time – it is anything but a “good” option. I would certainly counsel trying every other avenue first. I would certainly agree that it is honorable and laudable to work it off rather than seeking court help. And I certainly would never sell the Lord and His ability to provide short. But I also recognize that sometimes, either by our own compounding of mistakes, or from circumstances beyond our control, we may be left with little alternative, short of a miraculous deliverance (which I most certainly do not rule out).

As I say, I hate going to the doctor. I look for every other avenue first. It may be when I am sick that it is a result of poor maintenance on my part so that I am culpable for the condition I have, or it may be some disease that has settled on me entirely beyond my control. But if things come to such a pass that I am forced to go to the doctor, I do not see this as a lack of faith. I see this as making use of the particular means that God has provided for me in my trouble. There is a point at which taking advantage of outside means can indeed be an indication of insufficient faith. There is also a point at which failing to take advantage of outside means may be incredibly arrogant, because it amounts to dictating to God the manner in which He must solve your problem (when in fact He has already provided a solution which you dislike). In all issues of application where the Bible does not give a direct answer, deciding where that line is to be drawn must be the province of the individual Christian, for it requires personal spiritual growth and maturity, careful attention to scripture, and the help of the Holy Spirit, and intimate acquaintance with the situation (including what is really in the person's heart). But deciding such issues once and for all for other Christians by being dogmatic about an arbitrary standard which is not in the Bible is a mistake in my view.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

I work for a company that runs Casinos. I personally don't even know how to play casino but my salary comes from money gained thru gambling. I've heard some people say gambling is a sin. If so, is my money defiled? I pay my tithe using that money. Please help.

Response #5: 

There are really two questions here. First, "is gambling a sin?" To my knowledge scripture does not say anything specific about gambling or betting on games of chance or other such activities. That, however, does not mean that gambling is not or could not be sinful in some circumstances. The Bible does not contain a comprehensive "catalog of sin". Indeed, that would be impossible since virtually any thought, word, or deed has the potential to be sinful depending upon motivation and circumstances (please see the link: Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin). Furthermore, something can be technically "not a sin" and still extremely counterproductive to a sanctified and successful Christian walk. Scripture, for example, does not have much to say about drug use. The closest thing is the Greek root pharma used in the New Testament generally to refer to witchcraft (i.e., "potions": Gal.5:20; Rev.9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15). We can understand from this that using drugs for illicit, anti-Christian practices is sinful, but scripture does exhibit some tolerance for the medical profession (which would naturally seem to include the use of drugs for medical therapy: Matt.9:12; Lk.10:34; Col.4:14; 1Tim.5:23; Rev.3:18b). It is difficult to see what particular "good" comes from gambling of any sort (beyond its entertainment value, and that certainly would not in any way imply a spiritual recommendation). On the other hand, it is clear that gambling is vehicle and perhaps a primary cause of the destruction and ruination of many lives.

This destructive aspect of various behaviors like gambling or drug use often leads well-meaning Christians to paint certain activities with a very broad brush, branding them "sin" in every respect. But while it is certainly permissible on the one hand for an individual Christian to decide for him/herself to stay completely away from, say, "movies" or "dancing", and while outlawing these activities on the other hand generally would cause little tangible harm, the setting up of absolute, non-biblical standards of prohibition for other people and then punishing them (even if only by ostracism) is the very definition of legalism, an extremely dangerous and even more destructive behavior in and of itself, one which can be just as paralyzing to true spirituality as some of the behaviors it seeks to control.

Is gambling a sin? Like many such activities, it certainly can be. Should Christians avoid it? For their own spiritual welfare, Christians should avoid any activity that compromises their walk with Jesus Christ, and should also avoid behaviors which directly undermine the faith of others (cf. Rom.14; 1Cor.6:12-13; 8:1-13; 10:23-33). However, as these sorts of issues arise in virtually every sort of human behavioral venue, complete prohibition dictated from above would quickly leave us with a situation resembling the Taliban's Afghanistan (and I can't imagine any place more spiritually dead). Even on an individual level, it is important for the individual Christian to make decisions to refrain from things which are not necessarily sinful in and of themselves from his/her own free will, rather than as a result of coercion from the outside. It is right and proper for Christians to offer friendly rebukes when they observe very clear sinful behavior on the part of a brother or sister, but there is a point where loving observation may become bullying. Decisions to refrain because of what other people might think rather than from what the individual Christian believes from scripture and the prompting of the Spirit are almost always very detrimental to spiritual growth. Take the case of alcohol, for example (and on this see the link: Should Christian Leaders Refrain from Drinking Alcohol in Public?). Clearly, drunkenness is sinful (cf. Rom.13:13; 1Cor.5:11; 6:10). Clearly, the use of alcohol itself is not universally prohibited by scripture (e.g., Jn.2:1-11; 1Tim.5:23). Where that leaves us is a matter of individual application of the scriptures applied honestly with a sensitive conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It may well be that we may decide that for us, personally, abstaining from alcohol entirely is the best path. But that does not at all mean that any other Christian who has a drink is committing a sin. And if we say as much or imply this by our words and actions, such unjustified censure of our brother's conduct would be sinful. Since gambling does not seem to have the same potential "up-side" as the consumption of alcohol (at least not to me), it is hard to see how abstaining would be wrong, and, on the other hand, indulging could be very devastating to oneself and others. However, it is also certainly possible that a person could indulge in limited gambling without any serious side-effects whatsoever. I think on this first part of the question that one thus has to look to the motivations. If a person is gambling out of greed (as is no doubt more often than not the case), the greed is certainly a sin (Eph.5:3; Col.3:5), and no good can come of sin.

On the second part of the question, namely whether or not a person should be involved in a process or a business that is dependent upon some such behavioral activities, I would have to say in general terms that this too is a decision that has to be made by the individual, consulting his or her own conscience through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We have to work for a living (2Thes.3:10-12). And since our work is necessarily "of this world", we cannot be expected to completely remove ourselves from all sinful people and all sinful behavior in our working lives and experiences which are bound to be incredibly secular in almost all cases (1Cor.5:9-10). We can refrain from personal sin. But we can't create a new garden of Eden in which to operate. Sorting out and disentangling ourselves completely in this respect is bound to be impossible, especially in the modern world where international companies and their financial connections have created a virtually indistinguishable network, at least from a purist point of view. So it is not a matter of compromise but rather of how much compromise in this regard we are personally supposed to accept. Clearly, ceasing all work and living off of someone else because we do not want to be compromised in any way is a serious violation of the real truth of scripture.

While I would certainly wish to stress that only you, the person directly involved, can decide whether or not remain in your current situation, it sounds to me as if you are doing very little personally that could be considered direct involvement in supporting gambling, however one should feel about gambling. I am sure that there are Christians who own businesses which the people who work in the casinos frequent. Should they refuse to serve them? Aren't they profiting from gambling, at least indirectly? As I say, complete separation is impossible, and on the other hand you do well to have a heart tender to this issue as it relates to your walk in Jesus Christ. In my own country it would be very hard indeed to find a business that does not profit either directly or indirectly from some sort of questionable and possibly sinful practice. My own predisposition would be against finding fault with something as indirect as you describe, but if I came to be convinced through scripture and through prayer that in fact I would be better off elsewhere, then in an orderly and responsible way I would look for something better, knowing that the Lord would help me in this if it truly is His will for me to change.

On tithing, please see the following links:

       Is tithing net or gross?

       Tithing and the Book of Life

       Is tithing required for salvation?

In the One who died for all or our sins, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hi, I am a Christian from ________. I got saved at a local church and It was really great experience. Afterwards I rushed to work. Problem is that am not allowed to work. I work illegally. Am I still saved? Its been bothering me so much and I don't know what to do ? What I know is that I don't see why God would bring me all the way here so that I suffer and am not able to manage myself. What does the Bible say ?

Also what do you think about secular music, secular conversations, secular activities? Where do you draw the boundaries? Not for God is bad? Thanks in Advance. I read something from your website everyday.

Response #6: 

I am very happy to hear that you are now my brother in Jesus Christ! Regardless of what happens in this world of troubles, we will enjoy the Lord forever together in very short order if only we maintain our faith and faithfulness in Him – and nothing this world can dish out could ever compare to the blessings to come.

The first thing I would like to do is to assure you that you are indeed saved. Our salvation is not a fragile thing. It is true that it is not an impossible thing to lose, but salvation is only lost by losing faith. And while it is true that everything and anything that we do in this life that is not faithful to the Lord is a negative for our spiritual health, Jesus knows very well that we are not perfect and that our lives are not simple. In my observation and experience, any person who asks the kind of questions that you are asking is in no immediate danger. That is because only a believer who is genuinely concerned about his or her relationship with the Lord and who wants to build that relationship up rather than tear it down would ever think of asking such things.

That said, it is indeed very important for us as Christians to maintain both a good offense and a good defense. On the one hand we want to keep growing spiritually in the Lord; we accomplish this by doing as you are doing: continuing to seek out substantial teaching, continuing to read the Bible, continuing to pray, continuing to apply the truth to our lives, and beginning and then continuing to minister the truth to others whenever God has prepared us to do so according to whatever spiritual gifts and opportunities He gives us. On the other hand, a good defense is necessary too, and your question seems to me to be more directed towards this aspect of the Christian walk. But before I go on, it is important to understand that both things are necessary for a truly successful Christian life (and by that I mean success in God's eyes even if by the way the world looks at things we are total failures).

In terms of "defense", the word most often used in the Bible is "sanctification", a term that refers to our progressive turning away from the world and towards God. Please understand: this is not necessarily something that can be achieved by following a set of rules and regulations. Quite the contrary. The Bible is very clear about the fact that we are "under grace" (Rom.6:14). This does mean that we have license to sin (Rom.6:15), but rather we have a license to do what God wants us to do without worrying about legalistic particulars. It takes spiritual growth and a certain amount of spiritual experience and maturity to figure out all the answers about how one should live one's life – and none of us ever gets it 100% right. That does not mean we should not try to get it 100% right. Quite the contrary. Trying to get it 100% right is exactly what we ought to want to do and try to do, but it is a fact and a reality that even as Christians we will continue to make mistakes, sometimes accidental and sometimes deliberately sinning. And in this we have Jesus Himself as our Advocate (Rom.8:34; Heb.7:25; 9:24; 1Jn.2:1; as well as the Holy Spirit: Rom.8:26-27), and we remember that since He died for all our sins, all our sins have been forgiven so that we only need to confess what we do wrong in order to access that forgiveness (1Jn.1:9; please see the study Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin). [this quote cut out of actual response] Here is a short excerpt appropriate to your question:

Given the intensely personal nature of this subject and the potentially devastating effect of sin and sinfulness on faith and faithfulness, such false impressions are doubly dangerous, and alone justify a detailed examination of the doctrine of sin. Over-focusing upon the threat and consequences of personal sin to the neglect of the mercy and forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ can cause serious disruptions in the spiritual life and has led many into a variety of false doctrines and spiritually counterproductive practices. On the other hand, assuming that forgiveness and mercy relieve the believer of the responsibility of pursuing personal sanctification is an equally dangerous misapplication of scripture. It is precisely because sin is such an emotional subject that it is important for Christians to have an exact appreciation of it, being neither paralyzed by it from a failure to appreciate God's mercy, nor complacent about it from a failure to appreciate God's holiness. As Christians, we have been forgiven our sins for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but we are also charged with pursuing sanctification (Heb.12:1-14), and need to seek God's forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit in time (1Jn.1:5-9). As we strive to draw closer to Him, denying our sins (out of a self-righteous desire to be seen as perfect) or ignoring our sins (out of a misplaced sense of security) are equally devastating to the Christian walk (1Jn.1:10; Rom.6:23). As Christians, we have been made holy in Jesus in principle, and we will be forever holy before Him in resurrection. While we are in these mortal bodies of sin, however, we must continue our struggle against sin in a right and righteous way as we pursue the holiness, the sanctification, to which we have been called to the glory of our Lord (Heb.12:14; cf. Rom.6:22; 1Thes.4:3-7; 1Pet.1:13-16; 1Jn.2:1; 3:2-3).

So much for general principles. I would try to answer your question this way. In speaking to believers who were also slaves (oppressed in a situation that necessarily limited their freedom to follow God the way they might like), Paul, an apostle writing the Word of God under the control of the Holy Spirit, was very careful not to tell them that they absolutely had to try and change their life situation (because of the immense trouble that could cause); but he also added that it would be preferable if God gave them the opportunity:

Let each person remain in the calling (i.e., status) in which he was called [to Jesus]. Were you called [to Jesus] as a slave? Let it not trouble you. But if you do get the opportunity to become free, it is better to make use of that opportunity.
1st Corinthians 7:20-21

It strikes me that your situation is similar to the above. You are in a situation which you feel to be a limitation on the way in which you would like to serve the Lord, that is, with a completely free conscience and clean witness. Yet the circumstances of your present life are not entirely of your making and pre-date your salvation in any case. While only you can make this decision, it seems to me from the passage above and from what you have shared with me that you could do worse than to wait patiently for the Lord's deliverance from your present circumstances. If you really have little other choice at present than to continue in your current employment or starve to death, I feel fairly certain that the Lord is not asking you to starve (since work is not un-Christian by any means). Rather, like the early Christians above, I would suggest putting this matter into the Lord's hands through aggressive prayer. It may very well be that this is what God wants from you at this point in your Christian life: not extreme self-sacrifice to your own destruction, yet not the abandonment of you conscience on the other, rather to trust Him for a timely solution, and to wait patiently and faithfully until the day when, like the believers addressed above, you too can "make use of that opportunity". God is more than capable of delivering you out of this uncomfortable situation. If you trust Him and wait on Him for His solution in His good time, He will show what the right thing to do really is, and will give you the means, the opportunity, and the courage to do it. For the Christian life is really all about trusting God, learning to walk closely with Him in faith. After all, there will never be a time on this earth when we who have put our trust in Him for eternal life will be free from all care, from all trouble, from all privation, from all testing. Quite the contrary. Put it this way: Jesus knew about your dilemma before He made the world, and He has made provision for you to do the right thing before time began. The only thing you (or I or any of us) really need to do, to learn how to do, and to become practiced at doing is to put yourself (ourselves) in His loving hands, trusting Him to provide the solutions and the deliverance in His own way and in His own good time. If my life experience means anything, it tells me that such deliverances very often occur at the time we least expect and in a way that we would never have anticipated. We supply the faith – God provides everything else.  It is important for us to be ever responsive to what our consciences are telling us through the Spirit, ever to do the right thing as God leads us to know what that is.  Sometimes, however, whether because of prior bad decisions or possibly even just because of circumstances beyond our control, we may come to find ourselves in a dilemma where we lack the ability or means to do what we feel we ought to do (that is, not just that doing what we ought to do is uncomfortable, but that it is rather a practical impossibility).  It is not an uncommon thing in the Christian life to find ourselves in a situation where our conscience is bothering us about something, yet we do not at present have the means or a righteous way to rectify the particular thing about which we are being convicted.  In such cases, we do well to trust the Lord to provide that means or way, and to make it a point of honor to embrace that way or means of rectification just as soon as our prayers are answered.  

As to the other issues you address, the answer I would give is very similar to the above. Some things in the secular world are so clearly sinful that they need no comment from me or anyone else – anyone with the remnant of a conscience would know that the Lord is displeased with His children being involved in gross sin. Other things, of course, are much more subtle and problematic. My advice would be to steer clear of things about which you have absolutely no doubt are bad, and take the time to test your conscience and read scripture about the others. God did not call us to leave this world – we are supposed to stay here as a witness to Him, so that it is impossible to avoid all contact with the world whatsoever (Jn.17:20-23; 1Cor.5:9-11). As Paul puts it, "everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial" (1Cor.6:12). As we grow up in Jesus Christ, more and more every day we learn what things are better avoided or minimized, and what things are more to be sought out and maximized. This is a growth process, and your interest in the Word of God certainly indicates to me a deep commitment to do what it is that Jesus Christ has called you to do.

God will continue to work every single thing in your life out for your good if you continue to love Him and His Son Jesus Christ with all your heart and continue to follow Him on the path He has shown you (Rom.8:28).

My prayer is for your continued growth in Him.

In the One who made Himself poor that we might have all the riches of salvation forevermore, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #7: 

Do you think it's right for a Christian to be a car salesman? some of my friends have told me that the most dishonest person in a town is a car salesman. Like taking a wrecked or used car, clean it up a little and tell you there's nothing wrong when the previous owner had decided on trashing it. When the car salesman sees someone coming all they're thinking of is a sale and get as much out of the car as possible, hopefully much more than it is actually worth. There are some conflicting views such as, "whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Can this be done as a car salesman? To me it seems that if a Christian cannot maintain their honesty and ethics, then they shouldn't have that job.

Response #7: 

I certainly agree with your premise, namely, that "if a Christian cannot maintain their honesty and ethics, then they shouldn't have that job". There are plenty of jobs and professions out there that require Christians to be very careful about what they think and say and do, not just this one. So on the one hand, I honestly don't believe it's impossible. On the other hand, I think there are many other professions and jobs that would test a Christian's true convictions as much or maybe even more. How do doctors justify the expense they put poor people through? How do people who work for government deal with all the injustices of government? How do ministers, for that matter, justify all of the circus tricks that they and their churches engage in to raise money and members? At least a used car salesman has a simple enough ethical standard should he choose to be ethical – just don't lie.

In Jesus who bore all of our sins on the cross and washed them away with His own precious blood.

Bob L.

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