Victoria Osteen, “co-pastor” of Houston’s Lakewood church and wife of best-selling author and preacher Joel Osteen, said recently, “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?”
Unfortunately, judging by the reaction of the crowd before which she spoke, there were a great number willing to give her misguided words an “Amen,” but we should make no mistake: this attitude and doctrine is completely at odds with Scripture and is heresy of the rankest sort.
It was, as on commentator observed, an admission that the speaker loved herself more than God and was encouraging others to do the same. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
Let’s look at Mrs. Osteen’s two primary points in relation to what the scriptures actually say.
Firstly, the idea that God wants men to be happy is a half-truth that is regularly used to advance all manners of wickedness and false doctrines. While it is true that God, loving as He is, desires the best for men, it is not true that God teaches us to seek for either self-gratification or instant gratification. Indeed, the scriptures point out that such selfish behaviors lead to unhappiness and even death (both physical and spiritual).
Consider the words of James concerning temptation: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
Jesus said that He came to give life and to give it abundantly (John 10:10) but He also taught men to deny themselves, take up a cross, and follow after Him (cf. Matthew 16:24). The cross is hardly a “happy” experience. For Christ it was a time of intense pain, sacrifice and discipline. And it was through such suffering that He fulfilled God’s plan (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9).
God was well pleased with the suffering of Jesus, for it made it possible to save others. Likewise, there will be times when God will be pleased when we suffer, or are disciplined, for we will come out of it stronger, more mature and more capable — perhaps bringing others with us (cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). Therefore, rather than the simplistic doctrine of “God wants you to be happy,” the Bible points us to a more mature understanding.
In the words of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Mrs. Osteen’s second primary point is no less fallacious, indeed far from being a half-truth, it is an outright fabrication and a complete denial of what God actually teaches us. The idea that we obey God for ourselves, that we worship for ourselves, that we obey for ourselves; the whole concept of self-love sends men in a direction alien to where God wants us going. Sadly, too many think of religion in this manner and so fail to be pleasing to God in either work or worship.
The first and great commandment of the scriptures is to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength (Matthew 22:37-38). First in the process of following Christ is the command to deny ourselves (cf. Luke 9:23-25). We are to do all that we do, in word or in deed, by the name, or authority of Christ, submitting ourselves fully to Him for His good pleasure (cf. Colossians 3:17). While it is true that Christ will reward the faithful servant, no man can faithfully serve who is living first for His own desires.
If the apostles had followed the Osteens philosophy, they never would have preached the gospel to all the world in the face of intense pain and persecution. If Christ had followed their doctrine, He never would have died on the cross, putting our needs before His own. And if we follow it, we will never be pleasing to God.
Let those who would be faithful learn to ignore all such false doctrines and choose to serve the Lord, not self.
If you would like to begin the journey of laying up spiritual treasures for yourself and others, we invite you to study and worship with us at the Church of Christ, 197 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis. At the Church of Christ, we seek to serve God now that we might be with Him then, and to so serve, all of our lives.