Should a Christian Play Poker?

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 prime time 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? Does it matter if we play poker? Does God care if we do so or not? 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 we 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. It is clear that no Christian should play poker based on the Ten Commandments.

Footnotes

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[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)

Understanding Razz Poker

Razz poker, which is also called five or seven-card-stud-low, is one of the dozens of poker games available today. To understand Razz poker it is a good idea to understand the basic rules and terminology used in all poker games. The other names for Razz poker, five-card-stud-low and seven-card-stud-low, refer to a game in which each player is initially dealt two cards face down and one card face up.

The player with the lowest face card must begin the betting. Players dispose of unused “burn” cards and are dealt an additional face card to make up for the card placed in the discard pile. Cards are dealt in such a manner until they total either five or seven face cards. The object of the game is to obtain the best set of either five or seven face cards with the lowest ranking. In this game aces are played as the number “1” so that they can be played “low” and built off of with a subsequent 2, 3, etc. The best hand in five-card-stud-low is 5, 4, 3, 2, ace and in seven-card-stud low Razz poker the best hand is 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, ace.

It is also important to know basic poker terminology, although “hand” terminology is not relevant in Razz poker. Straights, flushes, full houses, et cetera mean nothing in five and seven-card-stud-low. Terms that are important include: “rank,” or the number of the card: 2, 3.4,5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace; “suits,” which can be spade, heart, club, or diamond; “all-in,” which is betting all your chips; “ante,” which is a forced bet where players must bet equal amounts; and “hand,” which can be straight flush, four of a kind, full house, straight, three of a kind, two of a kind, two pair, one pair, or high card hand.