A sweepstakes can refer to a lottery or to a race or contest in which the entire prize is awarded to one winner. Sweepstakes may or may not involve gambling, as the winnings can be chosen by random drawing without cost to the winner. The term originated from a Middle English word, swepestake, which referred to a winner who swept the table of all earnings.
Gambling, and any contest where the monetary outcome is based on chance, has long been condemned by the church, and for good reason. Gambling was once the forte of shady characters and the underworld. Fortunes were lost and families were destroyed by the roll of the dice or the toss of a card. Therefore, Christian leaders strongly opposed any venture that even remotely hinted of gambling. Because of their similarity to games of chance, sweepstakes were often included in that ban.
However, in the last century, contests, lotteries, and sweepstakes have become so commonplace we hardly associate them with the evils of 19th-century gambling. Television game shows have further lowered our resistance. We cheer with the winners who walk away with the prizes. Sweepstakes also abound as a form of advertising. Businesses market their services by offering a chance at a prize in exchange for our contact information. In this type of sweepstakes, the participant has little to lose and, if fully aware of the consequences of entering, suffers no real harm in doing so.
The problem with sweepstakes begins when we pin all our hopes on winning, as if money will solve our problems. We see winning as the answer instead of trusting the Lord. People can get so caught up in the possibilities of winning a sweepstakes that they sacrifice money they don’t have on the altar of chance. When we become focused upon the “what ifs” of winning, money quickly becomes an idol.
The Bible warns us often about the trap of money-loving. First Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Hebrews 13:5 declares, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” The desire for money is nothing new or unique to our culture, and sweepstakes only capitalize on that desire.
While entering sweepstakes is usually innocent fun, we must always consider the cost. Rarely is anything free. Before entering any contest, we should consider some questions:
• What do those operating the sweepstakes stand to gain from my participation?
• Is it a gain I readily condone?
• Am I being used in ways I would never agree to if not for the chance of winning?
• If I could consult Jesus before entering, would He give the “go ahead”?
• Will entering this contest increase my greed or focus upon material things?
When we can give healthy, God-honoring answers to those questions, entering sweepstakes should not be a problem.