Neal Pollard

Today, we are finding out that three winning lottery tickets were sold in the record-setting Powerball jackpot, one in California, one in Florida, and one in Tennessee. Each ticket is worth $528.8 million dollars. That’s an attention-getting number.  Here are a few more.  $70.1 billion dollars, the amount Americans spend on lottery tickets every year (more than Americans spend on sports tickets, books, video games, movies, and music combined). $755. That’s the average per-capita spend on lottery tickets in South Dakota. $800. That’s the per-capita spend in Rhode Island, who holds the ignominious distinction of leading the nation in this category. $230. That’s the per-capita average spend of every man, woman, and child in the 43 states where the lottery is played. One-third and one-half.  The poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets (statistics via, Derek Thompson, “Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame”).

Newscasters often report on these jackpots and encourage viewers to “check the numbers.” Lottery commercials often vie with beer commercials as some of the more humorous, clever ones to be seen. In the media and public venues, lottery ticket purchasing is usually portrayed as a harmless, even exciting, diversion. Perhaps many have failed to look more closely at what these other numbers mean for a person’s ethics and morality.

John A. Hobson, in the January 1905 edition of International Journal of Ethics, examined “The Ethics Of Gambling.” In an examination of gambling, including lottery contests, Hobson observes:

Gambling involves the denial of all system in the appointment
of property: it plunges the mind in a world of anarchy where
things come upon one, and pass from one miraculously. It does
not so manifestly sin against the canons of justice as do other
bad modes of transfer, theft, fraud, sweating (sic.), for every one
is said to have an equal chance; but it inflicts a graver damage
on the intellect. Based as it is on an organised rejection of all
reason as a factor, it removes its devotees into a positive atmosphere
of miracles, and generates an emotional excitement that inhibits
those checks which reason more or less contrives to place upon
emotional extravagances. The essence of gambling consists in
an abandonment of reason, an inhibition of the factors of human
control (Vol. 15, No. 2, 138).

Hobson was looking at the underlying psyche of those so eager to gain as much as possible while exerting as little effort as possible. But he decries more than laziness. He puts his finger on the most dangerous aspect of things like playing the lottery—the Bible calls it “covetousness.” It is an irrational, often compulsive, attempt to obtain wealth.

The BDAG lexicon defines the covetous person as “one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person, whose ways are judged to be extremely sinful by Christians and many others. In Hellenic society this was a violation of the basic principle of proportion and contrary to the idea of beneficent concern for the citizenry” (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.). Greed is not confined to practices like playing the lottery, but it is legitimate for one to ask what motivates their play?

What is clear is what Scripture says about covetousness: it prevents one’s inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10), it is idolatry which again prevents inheriting this kingdom (Eph. 5:5), it is a failure to love one’s neighbor (Rom. 13:9), and it is a defilement of the heart (Mark 7:22). Let’s make sure that greed and covetousness do not “have our number.”


“Under The Sway Of The Wicked One”

Neal Pollard

In 1 John 5:19, John readies the close of this epistle by observing, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (NKJ). The Greek word translated “lies in the power of” (ESV, NAS) or “is under the sway of” is a word meaning “to be in the power of one” (Zodhiates) and “to lie in” (TDNT). Bauer adds, “As the believer abides in Christ, so that he is nourished and fruitfully sustained by Him, so the world lies in the devil, by whom it is controlled and rendered helpless and powerless, and finally killed” (ibid.).  This gives us a clear picture of not only what the saints in John’s day dealt with, but also what our current spiritual climate is.

There is a growing culture of unbelief in contemporary society, a skepticism toward a truly biblical worldview.  With that, there is an intolerance bred by ignorance, a bias against the objective truth of Scripture.  In its place, there is a glorification of and infatuation with people and things the Bible calls sin.  That is not novel to our age.  Yet, it is good for us to be reminded that such misplaced affection is the result of a culture that lies in the devil, controlled and subdued by his way of thinking.  Paul tells the would be soul-winner to approach that work this way, “gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses” (2 Tim. 2:24-26a). What’s their problem? They are in “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26b).

We encounter people every day whose choices are the result of having come under the sway of the devil.  They have shaped their lives, their goals, and their desires, by the way he says that fulfillment, satisfaction, and pleasure are derived. For many, they do not know another way much less the way God has laid out in His Word.  Perhaps if we remind ourselves how people got where they are, we can help them get where Christ wants them to go. So many are looking for a better way and they know they have not found it.  Let us invest ourselves in them and through that relationship show them “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).



Neal Pollard

One of the feature stories in today’s USA Today is a glowing feature about a homosexual couple getting married in Maryland, one of the states to legalize homosexual marriage in the last election.  The article is also about changing attitudes in our nation.  Chuck Raash, the author, states in the course of writing that 53% of Americans surveyed say they think that same-sex married couples should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.  Perhaps the statistic I found more interesting was that 36% of people surveyed have changed their mind about this issue during their lifetime.  While those numbers are not further analyzed, the tone of the article would suggest that most, if not all, have changed from opposing to accepting it.  One of the grooms summed up the “three stages” homosexuals often face when they reveal their preference to the people in their lives–“tolerance, acceptance, embrace” (USA Today, 1/9/13, A-1).  I do not doubt any of the statistics in the article, nor do I disagree with the fact of such gradual change in thinking in people’s minds toward matters like homosexuality.

Yet, I would disagree with this man and those who support his lifestyle that such change is positive.  Sin is very often met with such a gradual, changing attitude.  The 18th Century English poet, Alexander Pope, is actually the originator of the thought from the afore-quoted groom.  In “Essay on Man,” Pope said, “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen. Yet too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”  The idea, especially in context of the whole, is that people’s attitude toward sin soften through the attrition of exposure.  That is, the more we are exposed to sin, the more comfortable and desensitized to it we become.  When a sin is increasingly portrayed as positive and right and people stop speaking against it, that society inevitably moves from disapproval to embrace.

Isaiah speaks of people getting things spiritually backward, calling evil “good” and good “evil” (5:20).  Consciences get seared (1 Tim. 4:2). They become callous, having “given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:19).  Someone may deny God’s existence or that the Bible is His inspired Word, but those who claim faith in both cannot consistently do so but tolerate, accept, or embrace what He says therein is sin!