A new article from CWC contributor and brother in Christ, Edward Benitez:
Christianity Today recently posted a brief article titled “Joel Osteen Denies He’s A Prosperity Preacher, Says His Focus is on Helping Other People.” (1)
As the title suggests, Joel Osteen disavows that he endorses or teaches the prosperity “gospel,” which is described as “a belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.”2
Does Joel Osteen preach all that?
Indeed he does, as a close look at any of his sermons reveals and as many critics have pointed out. In this particular critique by Christianity Today, however, it appears not so much as a denial but rather as an excuse/justification to preach it.
“Our message is that we’re blessed to be a blessing to others,” Osteen is quoted in the article. There is nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to be blessed and to bless others. In fact, there is plenty of mention of blessing in the Bible. Although well-intentioned, it is not, in fact, what Osteen preaches. As far as blessings go, when one listens to Osteen’s messages, it appears that it is mostly about improving yourself. It is about making yourself better, and hardly does one get the impression from listening to any of his messages that it is about helping or how to be a blessing to other people. By only focusing on the self, Osteen ignores what Scripture says about that:
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).”
This is not the message Osteen sends out. It is rather one where you come first. He does not teach to count others as more significant nor does he teach on how to be concerned in the interests of others. Osteen’s messages are primarily about improving yourself materially, physically, and psychologically. There is nothing wrong with that, but they are not nor should they be the primary concern for a Christian. By not actually teaching about being a blessing to others, Osteen is either being dishonest about his intentions or is unaware of it.
The article mentions the significant sums of money spent on the church as well as Osteen’s personal salary. When pressed about Jesus’ teaching about the rich going through the eye of a needle, Osteen’s reply was that it is ok to be wealthy just as long as you help others.
“I think [Jesus] was talking about how if your focus is on riches – just, how can I be wealthy and focus on myself all the time – that’s not what Micah and others in the Bible were talking about. If your dream is to rise higher, to do great things, to have money to help mankind, to be a blessing to others, I don’t think God has any problem with that,” Osteen says.
Again, this seems more of an excuse to preach prosperity than a genuine attempt to understand the text itself. Jesus was not talking about the problems of focusing wealth only on yourself, since in context (Matthew 10:17-27), the rich man in the story kept all the commandments except one, the sin of coveting, and what the young ruler coveted was material possessions. He was distraught that he had to give away his possessions since Jesus told him to sell everything and follow him. Jesus had also taught in the Sermon on the Mount to lay up treasures in heaven, not here on Earth (Matthew 6:19-21). Yes, God has no problem with believers wanting to help others, but as mentioned above, Osteen does not teach on how to do that, but rather only on helping yourself. Also another problem here is how Osteen misteaches this passage of Scripture. Osteen has said elsewhere that his aim is encouragement. There is nothing wrong with encouraging others. It is something believers should do, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of misteaching Scripture.
Joel continues: “We wouldn’t have the Compaq Center today if God hadn’t blessed people the way they could give. It cost $100 million to renovate that facility. (Those are) people that believe that God can do something with a life — that I can rise higher and accomplish things and excel. Not to focus on me, but to be a blessing to others.” Again, being a blessing to others is commendable thing to do. But it is interesting that as much money as Osteen says went into renovations, could that not have been better spent in actually helping others? All that money spent and still being spent on the Compaq Center could go towards building more homeless shelters, food drives, orphanages, education, etc. Such opulence for a church is not necessary. It could be done without. A more modest building could suffice, and at times such luxuries could be dangerous.
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9).”
There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve oneself or helping others. The problem comes when that becomes the focus, instead of trusting and glorifying God. It is also entirely possible to bless others without being materially blessed yoursel
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