Poker, gambling and its forms have often been considered acceptable in today’s society.  What was once found only in gambling halls is now found on primetime television. No longer relegated to Las Vegas, poker is in California, online, and practically in every state in the U.S.  If you do a Google search for “Christian Poker”, the top ten results for me at least showed only articles saying “go ahead” or “as long as it doesn’t take over your life you are not sinning” but each article had little or no study of the Bible.  Surprisingly, there is hardly any Christian material on this subject.

The question is, are we obeying God’s commandments?  Are we following Jesus by playing poker?  Are we dishonoring God by playing poker?  Can a Christian justify playing poker?  Is there such a thing as a Christian poker player?  Is it a sin and does the Bible say anything at all?  These questions can be answered by investigating what Jesus said.  So let us study the Bible, God’s word to find the answer to whether Christians should play poker.

But before we do so, let us ask God for help as we study His word.  Let us pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, today we ask that you give us your guidance and clarity in regards to this topic.  Lord help us to have open hearts and minds, help us to overcome our sinful and selfish nature and to have a heart and mind like your son Jesus.  Thank you for your great forgiveness and please send your Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and understanding as we study this topic today.  We pray all these things in Jesus name, amen.

Nearly two thousand years ago, a lawyer came to Jesus and wanted to know what the most important commandment in the Bible was.  It’s a good question don’t you think?  What is the greatest commandment?  I invite you to turn with me in your Bible to Matthew 22:35-40 to find the answer that Jesus gave.  It says…

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.[1]

The greatest commandment is to love God with every ounce of your being.  Not some of our soul, mind or heart, Jesus said love God with all your heart, soul and mind.  How can we display our love to God?  Jesus gave us an answer in John 14:15 where He says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments[2].”  Are we loving others and God by playing poker?  Also what did God mean when He said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’?  Notice both of the two greatest commandments are about love.  God is love, and we also want to love others correct?  In fact if we call ourselves Christians and have not love we have gained nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).  Although humans are naturally selfish, we find that we wish to love God and follow his commandments because He first loved us (1 John 4:19, John 14:15).  It is the great love and sacrifice of Christ that has drawn us to God.  There is no greater love than God’s love for us.  And fortunately we can follow His commandments but only through the power of Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 15:5, 1 John 3:9, John 8:31-36).

So what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?  The Bible says…

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.[3]

Loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the law.  (Galatians 5:14)  It is the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments.  A lot of people today hear about the Ten Commandments and without deeply thinking about them they think they are some harsh restrictions that God gives people to punish them.  Their selfish nature says, “Don’t tell me what to do” and many people look at the commandments as a bunch of “thou shall nots”. But really would we want to live in a world where there are no regulations against murder, fraud, theft, and rape?  It is a law of love, not a law of harsh restraints.  Could you imagine a world where everyone followed the Ten Commandments?  You turn on the news and the newscaster says “there were no murders today, in the entire world”.  Wow, sounds like heaven doesn’t it?  Based on Romans 13:8-10, obeying the Ten Commandments are the fulfillment not only of God’s law, but they are the fulfillment of loving God and your neighbor.

Sin is definitely something evil, something bad.  But what exactly is sin?  Sin is defined as the breaking of God’s law for it is written “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.[4]”  Since sin is breaking God’s law, and love is keeping God’s law we can logically judge whether playing poker is loving or unloving, pure or a sin based on the Ten Commandments.  God is calling us to purity, to His original plan to love like Him.  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.[5]

So let us consider poker.  In any form of poker the goal is the same.  Players sit around a table and attempt to take each other’s chips.  The entire purpose of the game is to take the other players’ money.  But God’s law, His Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20 state…

You shall not steal. ~ Exodus 20:15 (NKJV)

Poker is a game of stealing.  Often a poker player may argue that poker is a game of skill but let us consider how it is played.  One player may “steal” the other player’s blinds.  Another will fool another player out of their money.  In fact a good poker player knows two important factors of poker, bluffing and trapping.  Bluffing is the art of lying, of fooling another player or players into thinking their money that they have put in a pot is no good and that they should give it up.  The second poker skill is trapping which is the art of deception.  A player with a strong hand will act like their hand is weak in hopes that they will fool another player into giving all their money to them by betting.

Interestingly enough, Satan in the Garden of Eden first perfected deception.

Genesis 3:13 says…

And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Satan made the fruit seem so good, if Eve would only eat the fruit she would be like God Satan promised.  Unfortunately, Eve was deceived by Satan’s great deception and she willingly disobeyed God.  Satan is a master deceiver, and he wants people to follow in his footsteps.  God on the other hand clearly states again in the Ten Commandments that deception is wrong and sinful.  It is written…

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. ~ Exodus 20:16

In addition the Bible states “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil” (Proverbs 12:20) And Jesus said “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Truth is of God; deception, in every one of its myriad forms, is of Satan; and whoever in any way departs from the straight line of truth is betraying himself into the power of the wicked one.

This commandment is repeated throughout the New Testament,

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.[6]

Do we enjoy it when people lie to us?  Do we enjoy it when people deceive us?  Of course not, sin is what has caused death in this world and sin is what has caused the great pain and suffering humankind faces daily.  But the art of trapping in poker is actually the art of deceiving.  A player flops a big hand but acts like they are weak by checking their hand to the other player.  What are they doing?  Attempting to deceive the other player.  Think about it, 100% honesty doesn’t make a good poker player does it?  No bluffing, no lying, no deception would make a player very easy to play against.

But even if a poker player was 100% honest, they never bluffed, they never lied, and they never deceived, would they be free from sin?

Again let us look at another of God’s commandments…

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s. ~ Exodus 20:17

Covet as defined by the Princeton dictionary is to…

wish, long, or crave for (something, especially the property of another person);[7]

Poker is all about coveting; the goal is to take other people’s money.  People sit around a table in an attempt to take other people’s money.  In fact if we are honest, each player’s mind is focused on, wishing for, longing for, or craving the property (in this case chips which represent money) of the other players.  Did God really mean we shouldn’t do this?  How about a friendly Christian poker game, after all poker is just a game right?  God didn’t just write the Ten Commandments in stone, He spoke them as well.  Exodus 20:1 says “And God spoke all these words”.  When God speaks, it is a reality.  There is not a 99.9% chance that God meant what He said, there is a 100% chance that God meant what He said.  God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?[8] In a world where men’s promises are like ropes of sand, God’s word stands as firm as a mountain of rock.  So when God commands us to not steal, not lie, and not covet there are no exceptions.

How about just a little poker?  What if we play for $1, surely $1 isn’t hurting anyone right?  After all it doesn’t affect me.

 

Many who have been trapped by alcoholism or substance abuses such as cigarettes have warned others saying, “My addiction began with just casual smoking or casual drinking”.  But what began as a smoke every once in a while soon turned into greater and greater urges that then lead them down to smoking packs of cigarettes a day.  Gambling for many doesn’t start at the $500 table; it begins at the small limits and then grows.  The Bible also says, It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.[9]

It is good to do nothing that makes a fellow Christian stumble.  Tempting others to sin is detestable in God’s eyes.  In fact, Christ greatly warned that those who cause others to sin and do not repent would be better off drowned in the ocean! (see Matthew 18:6)  If that isn’t a powerful warning then I don’t know what is!  The Bible also says, Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.[10] We will find happiness if we are not approving sin.  Besides making others to stumble a little sin is still sin.  A little disobedience is still disobedience and God is not pleased.  Let us consider whose character are we emulating by playing poker.  Below is a simple worksheet to cover what we have gone over so far and you can simply place each characteristic in the appropriate box.

Characteristic of Satan Characteristics of Poker Characteristic of God
DeceptionLying

Greed / Covetousness

Selfishness

Pride

Harming Others

Interesting that all those characteristics go in Satan’s corner!  Deception, lying, greed, selfishness, pride and the desire to harm others all are characteristics found in poker and they are also found in the character of Satan.

What if this is my primary source of income?  I’m really good at making money and if I quit I won’t be able to pay my bills!

 

Again and amazingly we can find an answer directly in God’s word.  Ephesians 4:28 says

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Just because we are good at making money through a sinful act does not make it right.

Jesus said…

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. ~ Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

But what is also amazing is that God promises to take care of our needs if we put our faith in Him.  Jesus made this promise to us.

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.[11]

God has made a promise that He will take care of you if you seek Him first.  Trust Him, He won’t let you down.

But what if we just play poker for fun?  Nobody is losing money so is that ok?

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. ~ Ephesians 5:3 NIV

Perhaps God can seem like a killjoy.  But His purpose is always best.  If we look away from our own pleasure and see what characteristics we are demonstrating in even free poker games we see some alarming factors.  Impurity such as lying, greed, pride and selfishness are still center stage even in a free poker game.  Should we practice sin for fun?  Should we practice lying to each other?  Should we practice deceiving each other?  And yet that is exactly what we are doing even in a free poker game.  Let us say that poker is 100% skill, it still does not pass God’s Commandments.  There is still deception, lying, greed and covetousness.

The bottom line is this.  You can’t play around with sin.  You can’t nibble around the edges.  God’s word says…

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.[12]

The flesh is a word simply meaning the cravings of sin, our carnal nature.  So we should not seek temptation, Christ never sought out temptation to display His power, and He avoided it at all costs.  When He was tempted it was for a purpose to demonstrate God’s power over sin and Satan.  Too many Christians are struggling with sins and one reason they do not have victory is not for a lack of God’s power but it is because they are making provision for sin.  Those who are trying to overcome cigarettes for example would promise God that they would not smoke but then leave a pack of cigarettes in their bedroom.  Then they wonder why they are tempted to smoke!  We must demonstrate to God that we trust His promises by also taking steps of faith and getting rid of everything that can bring temptation.  Online poker accounts should be closed, watching poker on TV should no longer be watched, any form of temptation that we have control over we should get rid of.  Eliminating forms of temptation are statements of faith to God saying, “Lord I trust that you will give me the victory as promised and here is my demonstration of trusting in you”.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[13] If we are in the habit of playing poker, in any form then we should not just remove the evil but we should also replace the evil habit with a good habit.  There are plenty of positive things we can do instead (study, pray, share with others, spend time with friends or family, read the Bible, workout, help others, these are just a few suggestions).

It might be a hard task for us to give us certain sins.  The reality is some sins like poker can bring us worldly profit.  It might seem like you are losing by giving up something that can give you additional money and power.  Often it can seem like you are losing out on a profit that could be yours.  The reality however, is that those who desire to hold on to this worldly profit are actually those who lose.  Jesus said…

For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?[14]

We may have thought that we can’t afford to give up a certain sin, the reality is that we can’t afford not to give it up.  If you don’t surrender your will to God and allow Him to give you the victory, you will exchange your soul for the things of this world.  Trust me, you are not losing out on anything by giving up poker.  In fact, you are actually gaining by giving it up.  It is written…

Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. ~ 1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NKJV)

The reality is in the past, and even now we seem to be pretty messed up based on God’s word.  Perhaps today you have realized that you are guilty of  playing poker, deceiving others, lying, stealing and coveting.  But there is hope, a great small little book entitled Steps to Christ says this…

“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.”[15]

When faced with God’s truth, when faced with the perfect life of Jesus, we see just how much we need Him.  Habits can be hard to break.  We know that God’s desire is for us to completely give up poker and gambling, and it may seem like a big request.  But is it really too much to ask when compared with what Jesus gave for us?  I invite you to turn to the book of Romans 8:12-14, it says…

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.[16]

I have a mortgage.  My entire house was already paid, every penny of it.  I am simply in debt to the party who paid for my house.  Therefore I have an obligation to pay that debt.  Romans chapter 8 verse 12 says we have an obligation.  Only this debt is not one of a financial nature.  This debt is much deeper.  It was paid not with American dollars but with something better, with the blood of God’s only Son the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.[17]

Indeed there is no greater love than Jesus for us.  He paid it all, by laying down His life for us.  The death that we deserved was laid on Him.  Therefore we have such a great obligation to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

Based on the enormous amount of scripture we have considered it is clear that gambling and all forms of poker are evil and not in God’s will for our lives.  We have an obligation, let us take a stand for Him and forsake our past life.  I invite you right now to ask God for help, for His forgiveness in this area and thank Him for His power to overcome.   Ask Him to help you gain the victory in all areas of your life where you may be struggling with sin.  I invite you pray to Him now and may God bless you as you choose to follow Him.

 


Before commenting on this article we encourage you to read the comments and answers provided.  Some individuals have argued that bluffing is not lying, this has been sufficiently proved a false argument from the Bible and the dictionary. In addition other arguments regarding comparing poker to business, sports etc have also been answered from the Bible.


[1] Matthew 22:35-40 (NKJV)

[2] John 14:15 (NKJV)

[3] Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV)

[4] 1 John 3:14 (NIV)

[5] Romans 12:9 (NIV)

[6] Colossians 3:9-10 (NIV)

[7] http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=define%3A+covet&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g10

[8] Numbers 23:19 (NKJV)

[9] Romans 14:21 (NKJV)

[10] Romans 14:22 (NKJV) – only partial quotation of the verse

[11] Matthew 6:26-34 (NKJV)

[12] Romans 13:14 (NKJV)

[13] Romans 12:21 (NKJV)

[14] Matthew 16:26 NKJV

[15] Steps to Christ, p. 44. E. G. White

[16] Romans 8:12-14 NIV

[17] John 15:13 NKJV