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Stock Market

Dear Schuyler,

While most conservative Christians see a problem with gambling, many of these same people are comfortable with investing money in the stock market, bonds or other securities as a means to earn income.  Easy electronic access to these investments means that people can easily buy and sell stocks at the click of button in the comfort of their home.  Risky investment strategies such as day-trading seem to come very close to gambling in my opinion, but not everyone I talk to feels the same way. 

Other than texts that generally refer to stewardship of our God-given resources, are there a clear Scriptural texts or principles that can be used to define the line between stewardly investing and foolish gambling in the stock market?

 

Before I answer the question, I would like to address in a few words the subject of Christian liberty. The questioner speaks of many “seeing” a problem with one activity, and others not “feeling” the same way. This is an instance in which we should bear Christian liberty in mind.

Christian liberty concerns indifferent things. By indifferent we do not mean that they are unimportant, but that the Bible neither commands nor condemns them. Some things are obviously sinful. These are always forbidden. Examples would be stealing, murder, or adultery. Some things are obviously duties. These are always commanded. Examples would be loving your spouse and prayer. But the life of the Christian in the world includes a huge number of activities that cannot be so easily classified. May I play chess; may I drink wine; may I wear certain clothing; may I observe a certain day? These are issues of Christian liberty. The subject of Christian liberty is one of the most contentious in the church. The New Testament speaks in terms of “weaker” and “stronger” brother (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8 and 10). The “weaker” brother has an oversensitive conscious, and does not properly grasp his freedom in Christ. We must remember two things in this regard. First, the stronger brother is not permitted to despise the weaker brother (Rom. 14:3). Take the example of the brother who believes (wrongly) that it is sin to drink wine. The Christian who enjoys a glass of wine must not sneer condescendingly at his wine-avoiding brother, and he must not flaunt his wine-drinking in front of his brother. That is to despise him. Second, the weaker brother is not permitted to judge his brother. The wine-avoiding brother must not accuse his wine-drinking brother of sin and look down on him as less holy because he enjoys an occasional glass of wine. That is to judge him. Let us live charitably in the church.

The reader asks about investing money in the stock exchange. The Bible does not address this directly. It neither commands nor condemns investing in the stock exchange. That should give us pause before we judge someone in that situation. Instead we apply biblical principles and seek to come to a conclusion without being dogmatic and absolutist.

What is investment? Here is a workable definition: “to invest is to participate in and benefit from the growth and earnings of a company through purchasing shares of ownership in that company.”  When that company makes a profit, the shareholders in that company make money on their investment. The problem is that investment involves an element of risk, because the value of investments can fall as well as rise. At this point there are some who believe that investing in the stock market is akin to gambling. The element of risk does not in itself prove that it is gambling. All investment involves an element of risk. Hiding money in your house, entrusting it to the bank, taking out a mortgage, or investing money in your business or in someone else’s business are examples of our use of money. None of them is foolproof. Riches are uncertain! Do not put your trust in them! “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19–21); “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven”  (Prov. 23:4–5).

It is possible to sin while investing in the stock market. No doubt the New York Stock Exchange or Wall Street is filled with greedy, covetous sinners. But that does not mean that a Christian cannot glorify God through investing wisely in stocks. A more important question is what the Christian intends to do with the money he earns on his investments. Hoard it? Save it for something important? Invest it in the church, the Christian schools and missions? Finally, there is a difference between speculating (high risk) and investing (low to medium risk). A Christian who understands the obligation of stewardship will  not approach this activity as if he were playing in a casino. He will seek out the wisdom of a financial advisor to help him with prudent investment.

I hope this is of some help to the reader.

Schuyler