Responding to Victoria Osteen’s Defenders—Part Two

A host of biblical passages are being misused by those who are supporting Victoria Osteen's recent comments.

A host of biblical passages are being misused by those who are supporting Victoria Osteen’s recent comments.

I hope this will be my last post on the Victoria Osteen controversy. My initial post garnered more comments than any of my other posts in five plus years of blogging. Many people supported what I had written. Many people disagreed with what I wrote and left comments expressing their disagreements. And there were a handful of comments that I rejected because they were either too nasty to publish, too far off topic, or just the same people repeating the same charges after they had been addressed time and time again.

Since there were many comments from those who disagreed, I decided to respond to some of the main arguments being made. The first half of this response was posted a few days ago and focused on two claims: 1) “Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged” and 2) God Promises Believers Health and Wealth.

In this final post, I want to address three more common arguments being made in favor of what Mrs. Osteen said or that were made simply to criticize me. Again, this post will not be an attack on Victoria Osteen or anyone else. It will simply address the arguments being made.

Error #3: Everyone Else Has Problems Too

One of the “defenses” used by supporters of Mrs. Osteen is to go on the offensive. I’ve been told in the past few days that I’m being used by the devil to attack a godly person. Again, I never attacked Mrs. Osteen. I merely critiqued her message.

I’ve also been told that I’m defending the devil because I focus on the negative passages that talk about persecution. It’s not that I focus on them, but I’m not going to pretend that they don’t exist! I’m also not going to pretend that countless faithful followers of Jesus Christ have not suffered tremendous persecution and endured lives of poverty.

Some people have said that we all do things for ulterior motives instead of out of a desire to serve God. While I can’t speak for everyone else, I can’t say that my motives are always pure, although I wish they were and I strive for that. But this objection misses the point. Yes, we all sin and fall short. I readily acknowledge that in my own life. But this does not change the fact that it is absolutely unbiblical to teach people that when they do good things, when they go to church, and when they worship God that they should do it for themselves, and not for God.

I’ve also been told that I attacked her just to make her look bad, or for my own publicity. In response to the first claim, I would say that her own words made her look bad. All I did was point out how they contradict Scripture, and then I asked people to pray for her and her husband.

As to the charge that I only wrote the post for my own publicity, I guess you’d have to take my word for it that this certainly isn’t the case. If that were my motivation, I surely would have written against the Osteens and other popular teachers on a regular basis in the past. Anyone can go back through the five years that my blog has been up to see what kind of topics I write about. They can read my responses to comments and the way that I write my posts, and they can decide for themselves what they think my motives are. I pray that my goal will be to glorify God in all I do, so please pray for me to that end.

#4: She Didn’t Really Mean What You Have Said

This has been a common defense of Mrs. Osteen’s words. I’ve been accused of yanking her words out of context to make them seem bad. The first paragraph of the initial post addressed that very claim. I admitted that we don’t have the full context in the video, and several times in the comments I’ve invited people to send me a link to a video that would show the whole context. So far, no one has done that.

I do find it highly unlikely that the context would change the meaning of her words at all. She took the time to make her statement, and then she expanded on it and reiterated the idea that you do those things for yourself instead of doing them for God.

Did she misspeak? Perhaps, but if she didn’t mean to say what she did, then why did she take the time to clarify and repeat the same message? I have misspoken in front of audiences before. Oftentimes, I’m able to catch it as soon as the words leave my mouth, but there are times that I’m unaware of what I actually said until someone (usually my wife) lets me know about it after I finish speaking. But I find it hard to believe that I would spend over 30 seconds clarifying my point if I didn’t really mean to make that point to begin with.

Also, if she misspoke, did she ever offer a correction during the next service or on any social media outlets? No, instead of offering a correction, she said that she stands by her remarks. “While I admit that I could have been more articulate in my remarks, I stand by my point that when we worship God and are obedient to Him we will be better for it.” The problem with this comment is that the “point” she claimed to be making was not at all what she initially said. In the original clip, she clearly stated, and then restated, that the motive for doing the things she mentioned was to do them for self, and not for God. Her more recent statement speaks instead of one of the outcomes of worshiping God.

I’ve been accused of twisting her words, but no one has really been able to tell me how I’ve twisted them, because what she said is pretty straightforward.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Notice that she was specifically talking about our motive for worshiping God, going to church, or doing good. She said to do those things for yourself. She didn’t say that we should do them for God, and then as a byproduct of doing that we’ll benefit in some way. What she told people to do was focused on self, which is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells us to do everything for the Lord (Colossians 3:17) and that we need to deny self (Luke 9:23).

Furthermore, it’s unlikely that she misspoke since the same sort of message is found throughout her book, Love Your Life. Yes, I have now read much of it. The book is full of anecdotes and “positive” messages about applauding yourself, rising above your disappointments, living with confidence, and being the model of change.

This may surprise many of my readers, but I’m not completely against everything she has to say. I do think we need to strive to have a positive outlook, live with confidence, and be an example for others to follow. But the reason I can be positive and confident is because I know that Jesus Christ has paid for all of my sins and no matter what anyone does or says to me, I will be with Him for eternity (Romans 8:38–39). I know my sins are forgiven because of what Jesus has done. My confidence comes from what God has done for me, not what I can do for myself.

Her book does not really lay out any solid foundation for doing these things other than having a goal of improving your life. I won’t offer a full book review here, but I did find it very hard to read because it was essentially “fluff.” I’m used to reading deep theological volumes, and most of the fiction books I read are deeper than this one. I know some people enjoy that, but I have a tough time remaining interested.

Error #5: We Can’t Do Anything for God

Finally, some of the people who have commented on my initial post have argued that we cannot do anything for God and we cannot do anything to please God. Therefore, they say that when we worship God, it must be for our benefit instead of for God.

This is truly a strange objection since we are clearly told in the Bible to do things for God. As mentioned in the initial post, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). He also wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

There are so many other passages where we are specifically told that all we do should be done for the Lord. Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for me, know that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23–24, NASB). See also Romans 12:1–2.

Also, there are passages that do speak of our actions pleasing the Lord. Paul wrote, “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Two chapters later he wrote, “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). See also  Psalm 69:31; Proverbs 16:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

It seems like the people making this argument are confusing a couple of important issues. It is true that we cannot add anything to God and He does not need our worship because He does not lack anything. However, we do not worship Him to add something to Him; we worship Him because of who He is and what He has done. Do we benefit from worshiping God? Yes, but our motive for worshiping the Lord should never be for self. Our motive must be God-centered, not self-centered.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the conclusion of the previous post, we all need to follow the example of the Jews in Berea. Luke said that they were nobler than the Jews in Thessalonica because they took the time to search the Scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul taught them were true (Acts 17:11).

The modern church suffers badly because so many people neglect to take the time to make sure if what they are being taught lines up with Scripture. Too many people simply look for one verse that, when used out of context, can be used to support what they want to believe. But we need to be willing to do the hard work of studying the Scriptures in depth, and be willing to change our minds and actions when necessary.

Let me encourage you once again to prayerfully and carefully search the Scriptures daily and do everything for the glory of God—not for yourself.

Responding to Victoria Osteen’s Defenders—Part One

A host of biblical passages are being misused by those who are supporting Victoria Osteen's recent comments.

A host of biblical passages are being misused by those who are supporting Victoria Osteen’s recent comments.

The response to my recent post about Victoria Osteen’s message to do things for oneself instead of doing them for God really took me by surprise. I expected some people to support what I wrote and others to be against my post, but I never would have anticipated the vast numbers who read the article. I have truly been encouraged by many people who took the time to read the post and leave some edifying comments. Thank you for those.

Originally published late Thursday evening (August 28), the post has already led to the five busiest days on my blog, by far. The number of Facebook “Likes” or “Shares” is nearing five thousand, about 20 times higher than the next three most popular articles on my blog. Obviously, this has been a hot topic, and it has prompted two follow-up posts. This will be the first of those posts.

If you’re looking for an article that slams Victoria Osteen, you won’t find it here, since this article will hardly be about her. And you won’t find it in my previous post, since that one focused on critiquing her claims. Instead, this post will focus on some of the errors being made by many of those who have left comments in support of her message. I am not singling anyone out; I’ll just cover general ideas used by multiple people who were critical of my previous post.

Error #1: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

It would fair to say that I saw this one coming a mile away. Our culture has conditioned people to think that no one should ever be able to say that someone else is wrong—except, of course, the person telling you not to judge is doing the very thing they tell you not to do. It’s absolute hypocrisy.

The self-contradictory thinking has led to Matthew 7:1 being perhaps the most popular Bible verse in the United States today. Three years ago, I wrote a post on it as part of my blog series on commonly misused Bible verses.

Perhaps I should mention the fact that my post never judged Mrs. Osteen. I focused on critiquing her words. I did not impugn her character or “judge her” because I don’t really know where her heart is at. My post was about the message she delivered.

Indeed, it is hypocritical to state that it’s wrong to say that someone is wrong because then you are doing the very thing you said is not allowed (i.e. you’re telling someone they are wrong). But there are other problems. This charge rips the verse from its context and twists it to suit the desires of the speaker. It fails to recognize what Jesus was actually speaking about (self-righteous or hypocritical judgment).

Finally, it ignores the fact that we are commanded to make judgments on a regular basis. It’s true that we aren’t the one who decides whether a person goes to heaven; that’s God’s call. But we are supposed to call sin “sin,” and we are told that the Scripture is useful for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

I wonder if the people who resort to quoting Matthew 7:1 have ever read 1 Corinthians 2:15, which states, “But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.”

Error #2: God Promises Health and Wealth to Believers

Some of the people who commented on my post tried to argue that God promised Christians that He would grant them lives full of health and wealth. This idea, known as the “prosperity gospel,” is certainly appealing to the flesh. I mean, who doesn’t want good health and sufficient wealth, besides those who have learned contentment and how dangerous it can be to trust in these things (Philippians 4:10–13)?

A handful of verses are quoted out of context to support this idea. We won’t examine all of them here since it would take too long, so let’s look at a frequently cited example. Mark 10:28–30 and Luke 18:28–30 have Jesus telling His followers that those who have left family or land to follow Him will reap a hundredfold. But there are some problems with the way these verses are being used. First, Mark explains that all of these things will be received with persecutions.1

Second, Jesus said in the parallel passage in Matthew that these rewards will happen “in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

Finally, these passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke immediately follow the account of the rich young ruler. After the man heard the Lord’s response to sell everything, he went away sad. Jesus then taught His disciples about the difficulty and dangers of wealth. To interpret this passage as prosperity adherents have done would mean that Jesus had just informed His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, and then He essentially said, “But don’t worry. I’m going to make you super rich!” How does that possibly make any sense?

But a greater problem exists for those who tout this “prosperity gospel.” While God does bless some of His followers with good health and substantial wealth, they are in the vast minority over the scope of church history. And contrary to what prosperity preaches say, it is not due to their lack of faith. Some of the most faithful people in history have suffered greatly and had no wealth to speak of. I quoted the end of Hebrews 11 in my blog post. There we read in the Faith Hall of Fame about believers who were destitute and about another believer who was sawn in two. Where was their prosperity? In heaven. The very place where Jesus told us to store our treasures (Matthew 6:20).

Consider the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul—a man responsible for writing 13 books of the New Testament. He told Timothy, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). He told the Colossians, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1).

After Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Lord told Ananias to go to Paul because “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16).

Paul was incredibly faithful in his walk with the Lord, yet he was constantly being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, suffered from a lingering ailment, and eventually he was martyred. God did not promise him earthly health and wealth.

Of course, Jesus was also persecuted and put to death. Yes, He willingly laid down His life, but even though He was perfectly faithful, living a sinless life, He had no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). He had no earthly wealth, and He suffered beatings, betrayal, persecution, and death. He said that if the world persecuted Him, they would persecute His followers too (John 15:20).

But if we are to believe these prosperity preachers, then we should conclude that Paul and Jesus lacked faith to the extreme. How tragic! Many books have been written to point out the dangers of the so-called prosperity gospel. I would highly recommend Dr. Robert Bowman’s The Word-Faith Controversy for a solid, yet loving refutation of these ideas.

Conclusion

In the next post, I will look at three more common arguments being used by people attempting to defend or excuse what Victoria Osteen said. The first one will focus on the claim that everyone else has problems, so she shouldn’t be singled out. The second point will address the popular claim that she didn’t really mean what her critics are saying. Be sure to check back in a couple of days for that post. The third and final argument addressed with be the claim that we cannot do anything for God or to please Him.

So many people in the church today lack discernment. We all need to follow the example of the Jews in Berea who were nobler than those in Thessalonica. Why? Because they took the time to search the Scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul taught them were true (Acts 17:11). If they can be commended by Luke for checking up on Paul’s teachings, then you’d better believe that you have a right and an obligation to examine my teachings in light of Scripture. And the same goes for the teachings of Victoria Osteen, her husband, your own pastor, or any other person who makes claims about the Bible. Prayerfully and carefully search the Scriptures daily and do everything for the glory of God—not for yourself.


  1. The NET Bible includes a helpful note in Mark 10:30, NET to explain that the “persecutions” will accompany the houses, family, and fields. “The ‘all’ has been supplied to clarify that the prepositional phrase belongs not just to the ‘fields.’”