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.
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 will 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.
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.’” ↩