A Christian Traders’ Dilemma
I recently heard a story about a Texas hold’em poker player trying to reconcile the apparent contradiction between his Christian faith, which opposes gambling, and his desire to be a professional card player. With a bit of humility, he explained, When I sit down at that table, Jesus tells me, ‘Son, you’re on your own’.
As a Christian, my role as a steward of God’s resources gives me pause about gambling. And as a trading coach, I continue to receive phone calls and emails from suffering traders who equate their trading with gambling. They ask me, Bill, do you think it’s because God is against trading that I’m continually losing money? Does the Bible forbid trading?
Generally speaking, gambling is the hope that you will win a wager in a game of chance where the likelihood of profit is not better than 50%. Trading, on the other hand, is the diligent application of knowledge, wisdom, patience and self control in the execution of transactions such that the likelihood of consistent profits, with proper money management, is at least 75% (some go a bit lower).
Are there traders who trade like gamblers? Absolutely! These are the folks who call me and want to blame their trading losses on God’s wrath instead of on their own inability or unwillingness to exercise disciple. They associate trading with gambling because they trade like gamblers.
Are there gamblers who gamble like traders? You bet (pun intended). Let me give you an example:
My father is an exceptional Texas hold’em poker player. This is the incredibly popular card game where a player can bet all of his chips using the now well known phrase, I’m all in and my Dad’s success at the game can be attributed to three things:
(1) a clear plan of action,
(2) an ability to wait patiently for the right cards and
(3) the knowledge of how to maximize the opportunity that those cards present.
A clear plan of action
When my Dad plays Texas hold’em at the local riverboat casino, he treats it like a business. He goes with a predetermined amount of money in his pocket. He has a specific goal: to double his money. As soon as he does this, he immediately leaves, even if it’s within the first 30 minutes. If he losses his bankroll, he leaves. If he is there for 7 hours and has not doubled his money or lost his bankroll, he doesn’t hit the local ATM. He just leaves.
An ability to wait for the right cards
My Dad will sometimes throw away 10 or more hands in a row before playing a hand. He will wait and wait until the right cards come along.
The other card players at the table are eager to gamble. They are there for the action. My Dad knows this. He knows they will play lesser quality hands because they want to play, not sit around and wait. Therefore, by patiently waiting for the right cards, the chances for success are skewed in my Dad’s favor.
The knowledge of how to maximize the opportunity
You would think that when the other players at a table see my Dad bet a hand after throwing away ten hands, they would be scared off. Hardly. Remember, virtually everyone else at the table is there to gamble, not run a side business like my Dad. Once my Dad gets a hand he wants to play, he employs a betting strategy to maximize the profit potential of his hand.
I am not endorsing gambling, nor do I necessarily approve of my Dad’s card playing. But the reality is, my Dad is more responsible as a gambler than most traders are as traders. This description of how my Dad plays Texas hold’em sounds more like how successful traders trade than how gamblers gamble.
Examples of trading found in the Bible
The Bible references many nuances of trading that we are familiar with. For example, in both the Old and New Testaments we find that the Bible describes centralized trading locations, trading of proprietary accounts, and trading of specific commodities. A good illustration to help us answer the question, Does God oppose trading? comes from the Parable of the Ten Minas found in the New Testament book of Luke, which deals with the concept of proprietary accounts.
Jesus used parables to deliver Kingdom principles using earthly illustrations. Jesus used earthly subject matter that the crowds were familiar with. This only makes sense. If Jesus chose an earthly subject matter that the people were unfamiliar with, He would be stuck having to explain both sides of the parable.
Trading of proprietary accounts
Several traders that I traded with on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange had financial backers. In return for financial backing, these traders gave up 50% or more of their trading profits, but could receive a bonus at the end of the year based on their performance. The accounts were generically called proprietary, or prop accounts.
Many Wall Street traders trade the capital of large banks. These, too, are commonly referred to as proprietary accounts. These traders often receive an annual salary and a bonus at the end of the year base upon their performance.
The Parable of the Ten Minas paints a remarkably similar picture. In Luke 19:12 13 (NIV) we read, He [Jesus] said, ?A man of noble birth went into a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. The king tells them, Buy and sell with these while I go and return (Amplified).
When the king returned he called for the servants in order to find out what they had gained with it (verse 15). The first one came forth and said, ?Sir, your mina has earned ten more’. This servant was commended for his work and put in charge of 10 cities. The second came and said, ?Sir, your mina has earned five more’. This servant was commended for his work as well and put in charge of five cities. Just like today’s proprietary account traders, both the first and the second servant received a bonus based upon their trading performance.
Let’s be clear, this is not a parable teaching us that we should all be traders. For the purposes of our discussion, I am highlighting the fact that:
(1) these servants were told to actively buy and sell to generate profits and
(2) that the trading of what we now call proprietary accounts was understood by those Jesus was speaking to. Jesus felt that the crowd understood the concept of people trading other peoples’ money well enough to use it as the subject matter of his allegory.
Are you called to trade?
So does the Bible oppose trading? I can’t come to that conclusion given all that the Bible has to say about trading. But the Apostle Paul points us to an even more important question. In Romans 14:14, the Apostle Paul is addressing the debate about particular foods being clean and unclean. He says, As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.
Are you fully convinced that God does not oppose trading? Do you regard trading as unclean ? Do you have hesitations in your spirit about the matter? Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:22 23, NIV).
The question you need to ask is, Is it settled in my heart that God has released me to be a trader? If you doubt but still trade, you are not trading from a position of faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
If you are unsure if God has released you to trade, take some time to settle the matter with God. When you sit down to trade, you don’t want to hear, Son, you’re on your own. Better that you should hear, Well done good and faithful servant.
Bill Provenzano can be contacted through his website at www.UpsideBreakout.com