A video of the wife of popular television pastor and best-selling author, Joel Osteen, has been making its way through social media. To give Victoria Osteen a huge benefit of the doubt would mean she either misspoke or we’re lacking some sort of context showing her point to be the opposite of what she said. At face value, her words are absolutely heretical and directly contrary to the words of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Take a look at the video for yourself. [Note added on 8/30: A clip from The Cosby Show was added by someone else to the end of this video that may come across as demeaning to Mrs. Osteen.]
Here is a transcript of what she said:
“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?”
No. Not Amen. Not at all! This is heresy. I would sort of agree with the words inserted from Bill Cosby: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” [Edited 8/30] They aren’t really the dumbest words I’ve heard, but they are absurd when compared to what the Bible teaches.
Mrs. Osteen’s words may sound wonderful to a culture raised in the belief that life is all about self, but they are directly opposed to the Bible. Before looking at some specific passages, let’s see if there are some hints of truth in what she said, after all, effective lies often have some degree of truth.
Does God want us to be happy? In a sense He does, but that happiness will often look very different than what Mrs. Osteen and her husband have taught for years. Life is not about having Your Best Life Now (the title of one of Joel Osteen’s books) since our best life will be when we are with the Lord in glory. True happiness is found when we serve the Lord wholeheartedly, which is essentially the opposite of living for ourselves. Mrs. Osteen wants you to Love Your Life (her book title), but God wants us to love Him.
Does God take pleasure when we’re happy? I guess it depends on what you mean by happy. If you mean the fleeting emotion we often experience only to be unhappy hours later, then I would disagree. If you mean that we are filled with joy because out of a grateful heart we are obediently doing what God has created us to do, then I would agree that God would take pleasure in that, but I don’t think I would go as far as saying that is what gives Him the greatest joy.
Am I against happiness? No. Am I saying we can’t have fun as Christians. Absolutely not! Am I saying we should despise our lives? No, I’m not. I am saying that we need to stop focusing so much attention on ourselves.
Love Self or Deny Self?
Mrs. Osteen’s words fly in the face of one of the major components of living a godly life. Let’s start with what the Son of God said.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23–25)
Jesus Christ said that true followers need to deny self. He taught that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39). This doesn’t mean that we need to learn to love ourselves first (as is often taught today), but that we already do love ourselves and we need to take that focus off of ourselves and put it on God and others. Victoria Osteen encouraged her listeners to live for self. These two ideas cannot be more diametrically opposed.
Jesus lived a selfless life and set the example for us to follow. He willingly went to the Cross to die an unimaginably torturous death so that we could be saved from our sins—not so we could go around chasing after all the things we think will make us happy. Does the New Testament have anything else to say about this subject? Yes, far too much for one blog post. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
In Colossians 3:17, 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.” What motive should we have for the things we do? Did Paul say to do it for yourself? Certainly not! He said to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” He said something similar in 1 Corinthians 10:31. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
But what would Paul know about happiness? After all, this was the guy who was scourged five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, shipwrecked three times, in prison multiple times, and constantly under the threat of people who wanted to kill him (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). Yes, and he was one of the most faithful Christians who has ever lived. He understood that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross and rise from the dead so that we can live for self. He did it to save us from sin and to enable us to live for God.
Perhaps Mrs. Osteen should read the book of Job. This godly man lost every earthly possession and his entire family except his wife. He lost his health, and yet he trusted God. He was called blameless, upright, and righteous (Job 1:8; Ezekiel 14:14). Job was not happy during his trials, but he was extremely faithful.
Maybe Victoria Osteen should read Hebrews 11. This chapter is often called the Faith Hall of Fame because it highlights many of the Old Testament heroes who exhibited tremendous faith in God. But if you read this chapter, please read it all the way through, because then you’ll find out about some unnamed people with great faith. Here is what the writer of Hebrews had to say about them.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35b—38)
Christian, these are your role models! These are the people we should seek to imitate. They were willing to give up everything for the sake of following Christ. To live for self means that we are putting our own desires above what God has told us to do. It is arrogant and prideful, and it is the exact opposite of what the Bible instructs. We are to be humble, deny self, and live for God’s glory.
If you call yourself a Christian, please do not be deceived by the “gospel” of self that is so prevalent in our culture. If you seek true and lasting happiness, it will only be found when you are serving your Creator. It will never be found serving yourself. Mrs. Osteen’s words remind me of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5)
Turn away! Take your eyes off yourself and focus on Jesus Christ. Pray for Mrs. Osteen, her husband, and those influenced by their false teachings. Pray that they will take their eyes off of self and turn to the Savior. And please pray for me as well. I’m certainly not immune to pride. Pray that I will keep my eyes focused on Christ rather than self.