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Wordwise Insight, Issue #030
June 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. A good thing to do; the problem with idol worship; the ideal congregation; and more

READER Q & A. What's so wrong with gambling? and more

MEDIATIONS ON OUR HYMNS. Standing on the Promises


Acts 20:35 contains the only inspired record of words, outside the Gospels, spoken by Christ during the years of His earthly ministry. The Apostle Paul says, “You must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

It may be more pleasurable and popular to latch on to a winner, to follow in the train of one who is successful, but grace met us when we were spiritually down and out, and God wants us to reflect that same spirit toward others. And in the Greek language, a continuous tense is used– it is keep on helping the weak.

Some are weak in body, some in mind (or soul), and some in spirit. It is easy–and perhaps tempting at times–to take advantage of them. But Jesus taught that it is more blessed to give to them what is right and needful. We are to be burden bearers (I Thess. 5:14; cf. Rom. 15:1). That is part of our responsibility to all, but especially toward our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10; Heb. 13:3).

The Lord calls us to engage in the blessed activity of giving. And why should we do so?

1) Because the Lord commands it (Prov. 3:9; Lk. 6:38; II Cor. 9:6-8). It is the essence of true Christ-like love, which sums up all God requires of us (Rom. 13:8-9; Jas. 2:8).

2) Because it reflects the image of God who is a giving God. In Himself He is the eternally self-sufficient One, and has need of nothing. It may be that His greatest delight is found in giving (Jn. 3:16; II Cor. 9:15).

3) Because it shows confidence that God will meet our needs (Phil. 4:15, 19).

4) Because there continue to be needy people around us (Deut. 15:11; Mk. 14:7).

5) Because doing so is a joy for the child of God (II Cor. 8:1-2).

6) Because the eternal rewards of doing so are greater by far than the value of temporal things, since we cannot take the things of this life beyond the grave (I Tim. 6:7).

In his discourse before the Sanhedrin (Acts Chapter 7), Stephen reviews the history of his people. He speaks of the day when, at the foot of Mount Sinai, they bowed before a golden calf, made with the help of weak-willed Aaron (Exodus Chapter 32). “They offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the work of their own hands,” he says (Acts 7:41). As Romans puts it, Idolaters have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). There are many things wrong with the worship of idols. Let’s note a few.

1) To worship an idol is to reject the revealed Word of God about Himself (Exod. 20:2-6), and reject the general revelation about Him in nature (Rom. 1:19-20).

2) To worship an idol is to exchange the truth of God about His Person for Satan’s lie (Rom. 1:25). (The lie is that God is not uniquely transcendent, that other beings or things can be His equal or replace Him. The devil himself craved this place (Isa. 14:12-15), and he tempted man with the same deceit (Gen. 3:5).)

3) To worship an idol is to give what is created that which only the Creator deserves.

4) To worship an idol is to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of men as though they were creators on a level with God (Acts 7:41).

5) To worship an idol is folly, given its utter impotence (Ps. 115:3-8; Jer. 10:3-5). (They are called “vanities” in the Bible, I Kgs. 16:13, KJVempty nothings, but are treated with superstitious reverence by the misguided, cf. II Kgs 18:4.)

6) To worship an idol opens one to greater temptation, and the influence of demon powers which are at work behind the idols. (This often shows itself in sexual immorality related to idol worship.)

7) To worship an idol invites the certain judgment of God. He calls Himself a “jealous” God who will brook no rival (Exod. 34:14).

8) To worship an idol is not something only naked savages or primitive tribes do. God calls covetousness idolatry (Col. 3:5). Any person, thing, or activity (etc.) that begins to consume our time and control our lives can be an idol.

Every preacher wishes he had a congregation like the one that gathered in the home of Cornelius to listen to Peter. Cornelius tells the apostle, “We are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:33).

1) They were in their places early (vs. 24). No wandering in at the last minute–or after the meeting had started. I was at a pastor’s conference at Moody Bible Institute a few years back. About 1200 pastors were asked to join in singing “The Church’s One Foundation.” This we began to do, when some late-comers sauntered down the aisle and began working their way past others to empty seats. “Just a minute!” said the song leader, bringing the singing to a halt. “This is a hymn to be sung to the praise of God, not music to walk in by. We’ll wait till you’re seated.” (I was glad I was in my place on time!)

2) They had invited friends and relatives to join them (vs. 24). (When is the last time you invited someone to church?)

3) They saw themselves as gathering in the presence of God (cf. Matt. 18:20). Many of us look to see if our friends are there, or look forward to some special speaker or musician being there. But are we conscious of the presence of a holy God in our midst?

4) They expected God to speak to them through His servant. The sermon was not viewed as mere entertainment, but as a directive from the Lord (cf. Ezek. 33:31-32).

5) They listened to what was said and were receptive (vs. 44; cf. Matt. 13:9).

6) They believed and obeyed God’s Word, expressing their faith through believer’s baptism (vs. 47-48; cf. 11:1, 18).

7) God blessed the assembly in a special way. The particular manifestation of the Spirit that day provided a sign for the Jews that God was including Gentiles in the body of Christ, vs. 45-46. Though the results will differ today, we can expect the ready reception of the Word to bear fruit.

8) They were eager to receive more teaching (vs. 48). (What a contrast to those who fret if the Sunday morning service extends beyond the noon hour!)

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.


Question:So what's wrong with gambling? If it is done in moderation, isn't it just a bit of harmless fun?

Answer: Some of the material below was taken from notes by Pastor Bud Talbert, of Calgary, Alberta. The notes have been expanded, with his permission.

Gambling channels huge amounts of money into education and social programs each year. This form of “recreation” provides thrills and excitement for an estimated 80% of the adult population of Canada, and a growing percentage of the under-aged population too. The industry created over 200,000 jobs in 2002 and the number is growing.

Some complain about the damage it causes, but only 4 to 5% of those involved can justly be called “problem gamblers.” That is not even 2 million people nation wide. (The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse puts the figure at about half that.) Most people don’t lose that much when they gamble. Besides, it’s fun to win money–and maybe have the chance to win millions of dollars. Think of how such a windfall could be used for good!

That might be the reasoning of those promoting betting as harmless fun. But it was not always looked upon that way. In 1892 the Criminal Code of Canada, following that of Great Britain, placed a ban on all forms of gambling except horse racing. In 1969 the code was amended to permit groups “to use lotteries to fund worthwhile activities.” In 1985 the code was further changed to allow for VLT’s and slot machines, also giving the provinces control over gambling in their jurisdiction.

Since then gambling has grown into an annual $13 billion industry. (Alberta’s share was just under $2 billion last year.) That is about a third as much as the annual revenue of the agriculture industry for the whole country. Internet gambling, the “new kid on the block,” accounted for $5 billion in 2003 revenues. Of great concern, a significant and growing number of Internet gamblers are youth.

One dictionary describes gambling as "playing a game of chance for high stakes." Henlee Barnette says: “Three basic factors appear in the process of gambling: the payoff, the element of pure chance, and the agreement to pay by the bettors” (Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, p. 257). A Salvation Army writer defines it as “an act of risking property that gives material advantage based on chance and at the expense of others” (Faith Today, March/April 2007, p. 29). That is helpful. Lotteries, bingos, betting pools, and casino games are examples of the many forms of gambling. As suggested by the above definitions, these tend to have several things in common.

For one thing, each requires a surrender of funds or property by the gambler, with the statistical probability of almost certain loss. That is a high risk indeed–some would say a rather foolish risk. We hear about the big pay-days of the few. But in reality almost everyone loses. In fact, one person’s gain necessitates that the others lose! The winner could not win without it being a detriment to others to some extent.

Second, as noted, the gambler abandons himself to blind chance or accident. If he is to win, that will be the basis of it. Any money he receives will not be legitimate wages for hard work. He is attempting to get something for nothing at others’ expense. Some years ago a political party in Saskatchewan created a lottery to raise money for their upcoming election campaign. But did no one notice how foreign that is to the pioneer spirit of the province? Communities were built through many years of hard work by the citizens, and by neighbour helping neighbour, not by taking selfish advantage of others.

Now, some further food for thought.

1) Gambling sells an illusion, not reality. Notice how every commercial for gambling shows the individual winning–with no exceptions. There is upbeat music, excitement, dancing and happy smiles all around. You never see a person hanging his head despondently, wondering aloud how he is going to buy groceries this week. Yet we know that for every winner there are multitudes of losers. This amounts to false advertising. But it is typical of Satan’s methods. He disguises himself as “an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), concerned for the welfare of those he tempts. Look at what he did in Eden with “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Before the gullible, he dangles the “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25), denying, or glossing over the pain and bitter loss ahead.

2) Gambling negates Christian love. Romans 12:10 exhorts us to “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another.” “Through love [we are to] serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). And the essence of true Christ-like love is sacrificial giving. But that is not the principle behind gambling. In order to sustain the gambling industry the number of losers must always far exceed the number of winners. By design, every winner becomes one at the expense of many others. (Some even suggest therefore that gambling is a form of stealing.)

It is simply impossible to “prefer others” and at the same time seek to profit at their expense. And it is difficult to escape the conclusion that every winner has taken advantage of some who are poor and weak, and some perhaps who gamble obsessively and addictively. Studies document that, at least for some, seeing others defeated and humiliated, is part of the enjoyment of winning. That is hardly being “kindly affectionate” toward them!

But is it not true that many lotteries devote a portion of money that comes in to charitable causes? Are we not helping others by purchasing a lottery ticket? (Yes, that is the “carrot” used to coax the donkeys buy tickets.) But a close examination will show that often a far smaller percentage of money goes to those charities than many would expect.

More importantly, are we to say that we will only give for what we can get out of it? That is exactly the mind set Satan accused godly Job of having–that he only served God because he was so blessed materially (Job 1:9). But it was not true--and it should not be true of us. If the charity is a good one, we can kindly give to it what we are able. But let us leave the carrots for the donkeys!

3) Gambling promotes greed and covetousness. Remove the hope of material gain and gambling falls to the floor like an empty bed sheet. The anticipation of winning money or property does not simply make the game more interesting. It is inherent in gambling. But that is not the motivation that pleases the Lord. Covetousness--lusting for what belongs to others--was forbidden in the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 20:17). So was stealing from others (vs. 15). It is sobering to observe that God’s Word describes covetousness as a form of idolatry (Col. 3:5).

4) Gambling is contrary to godly stewardship. The Lord Jesus exhorts us not to lay up treasures on earth, but to seek to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20). We do this as we invest the resources He gives us in supporting the proclamation of the gospel and the building of His church. Paul thanked the Philippian Christians for sending funds to aid his ministry, saying, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account” (Phil. 4:17).

But how does this square with gambling away what God has given us in hopes of selfish gain–with the overwhelming likelihood that it will be lost and gone? The Bible says “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things may have an abundance for every good work” (II Cor. 9:8). Instead, the gambler’s money disappears down a black hole How does that “honour the Lord with [our] possessions,” as we are told to do (Prov. 3:9)?

5) Gambling is essentially a heathen activity. The Bible says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas. 1:17). What we have comes to us from the gracious hand of God. It is a gift of His sovereign Providence. “He [the Lord] makes His [the Lord’s] sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends [His] rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 6:45).

But gambling depends on trusting a mindless fate for gain, not Almighty God. Its real gods are luck and chance, with riches coming from the hand of some lottery organizer. Have you ever heard a gambler praising the grace and mercy of the Lord for his winnings? (And how could God approve of something so foreign to the principles of His Word?) The winner will more likely say, “This is my lucky day. Lady Luck was kind to me today.” His anthem is, “Praise Bingo from whom all blessings flow.”

6) Gambling has the potential to enslave. The Apostle Paul said that while all things were lawful for him he did not want to be “brought under the power of any” (I Cor. 6:12). Just as drinking alcohol presents the threat of addiction, so does gambling. (And sadly, governments have become slavishly addicted to gaming as well. They have designed things so many programs seem to depend upon it to remain viable.)

There is something seductive about the prospect of making money fast, and with little effort. But so often it brings with it painful consequences (Prov. 28:20, 22). Barnette says of the problem gambler, “He habitually takes chances; gambling absorbs all of his interests; he is optimistic and never learns from losing; he never stops while winning; he risks too much; he enjoys a strange tension between pleasure and pain.”

Statistics prohibit us from accepting gambling is benign enjoyment. Millions of Canadians are affected by its problems every year. An obsession with gambling leads to growing debt, loss of employment and loss of income. It brings the estrangement of family members, and it often leads to the sins of deception, cheating and theft to support the habit.

7) Gambling attracts criminal associations. There is a reason why organized crime and gambling get along so well. The two make perfect bedfellows–each striving to gain at the expense of others. Easy money is to be made by gambling, so the criminal element loves it. A great deal associated with the gambling industry is corrupt. Phil Johnson says gambling “breeds crime and corruption; it undermines character; it does not promote godliness; it violates private industry; it undermines the good of society; it exploits the poor; and it promotes false values” (“Gambling: The Moral Antithesis of Charity,” Pulpit Live, April 12, 2007).

8) Gambling does great harm to society. One of the dangers of a welfare system is that it tends to dampen the incentive to work. If the government will support me, why should I bother? And gambling can have a similar effect. It seems so easy to get something for nothing–to sit back and wait for the luck of the draw to meet my needs. But legitimate labour is the method God intends us to use to earn a living. That is how healthy communities are established and maintained. For the Christian it is also the way we gain the resources to support Christian ministry. It is the labourer who is “worthy of his wages” (Lk. 10:7), not the gambler. In fact, the Bible says, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thess. 3:10)!

The person may say, “Oh, I only spend a couple of bucks on a ticket every once in awhile. How does that do any harm?” And perhaps it does little...perhaps. But think of the industry which so much of that money goes to support. An industry that preys on the weak and the poor in the community. To gamble is to become complicit in that tragic wrong.

The Bible says, “None of us lives to himself or dies to himself” (Rom. 14:7). We have a responsibility to consider how our actions will affect others around us. We should compassionately “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10), not participate in taking from them the little they have. In truth, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given” (Prov. 19:17).

If we are to “abstain from every form of evil” (I Thess. 5:22), then the real question is not “Why shouldn’t I gamble?” but “Why should I?” An honest look at this practice shows it again and again to be contrary to godly living and to our need to depend on God. It is from His hand that our needs are supplied. We are to trust in Him, no rely on a roll of the dice.

As I work on this article, some friends are preparing to return to the mission field. The Lord called Dave and Judy to share the gospel of grace with a remote tribe in the jungles of New Guinea. They labour so far from civilization that supplies must be air-dropped to them every few months. But they have surrendered the material comforts of Canada, and contact with friends and family, because they believe in what they are doing. The rewards are nothing like the passing thrill of winning a lottery. They are eternal (cf. I Thess. 2:19). And in contrast to the dubious winnings of the gambler, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22).

NEXT MONTH: Is Sunday the "Christian Sabbath"?

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.



Kelso Carter had an astonishingly varied career--a sheep rancher, a minister, an author and publisher, a physician, and more! His name also appears in our hymn books as the contributor of a gospel song. Mr. Carter (1849-1928) wrote the widely popular “Standing on the Promises” in 1886, while he was serving as a professor (of chemistry and mathematics) at the Pennsylvania Military Academy. The music, composed by Carter as well, has the kind of bright marching style that must have been familiar at the academy.

The song begins, “Standing on the promises of Christ my King, / Through eternal ages let His praises ring; / Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, / Standing on the promises of God.” In the second stanza, the author addresses the problem of fear. Not just the ordinary kind. Great fear. “Howling storms of doubt and fear.” Doesn’t that paint a picture for your mind’s eye? Veritable tornadoes of fear, and blinding blizzards of doubt. “Am I going to make it through this? I don’t know if I can!” Maybe you’ve never faced an emotional gale like that. Maybe you have. I can remember an occasion when I did.

Years ago, I had to defend myself before an angry, hateful man, who seemed bent on causing me great harm. I had requested a meeting with him. But as I made my way there, the winds of fear and doubt swirled about me and I felt powerless against them. However, a ball point pen in my pocket brought special encouragement. A lucky charm? No. The pen was a gift from a friend of mine who knew what I was facing. He had been supportive and helpful many times. We shared a common confidence in the faithfulness of God. Above all, I knew he was praying for me. As I braced myself against the tempest, I felt that pen in my shirt pocket, and thought of my friend.

The words of Joseph also came to mind. His brothers had kidnapped him, and sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God worked in a wonderful way to bless his life and make him a blessing to others. At a later meeting with his siblings Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant if for good” (Gen. 50:20). It is an illustration of the words of the New Testament: “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). That was a promise I was eager to claim, in my personal storm! Perhaps, with stronger faith, I would have faced my ordeal with more serenity, but I do believe I got through it with integrity.

Jesus told a parable one day about two builders. One foolishly erected his house on sandy soil, without an adequate foundation. The other dug down and anchored his house to the solid rock beneath. When the rains and raging floods struck, the house upon the sand collapsed, but the other did not. In making an application, Jesus said, “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24-27).

In Mr. Carter’s words, “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, / When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, / By the living Word of God I shall prevail, / Standing on the promises of God.” Life’s storms may threaten to sweep us away at times, but when we choose to stand upon the promises of God, we have found a place of safety, a place where the footing is forever firm. With confidence we say, “the Word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). To believe it and obey it is to anchor our lives to the impregnable rock of God’s truth.

2) THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

3) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

4) Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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