I was browsing through Facebook this morning and came across one of my friends who had shared a recent quote from Joel Osteen’s page. Osteen’s post went like this:
Philippians 1:28 says, “Do not be intimidated by your enemies.” You may be up against a giant obstacle now, but put your shoulders back and hold your head up high. You are not weak. Those for you are greater than those against you.
The Bible passage he quoted didn’t ring a bell, so I quickly got out my Bible and looked it up. Sure enough, the passage was taken grossly out of context in the worst way. Here is what the context says:
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (ESV)
In this passage, Paul is encouraging the Philippian Christians to stand firm in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul knew there were false teachers (the “opponents” or “enemies” mentioned in the above passage) that were trying their best to lure them away from the true gospel and to win them over to their camp for personal gain. Paul also knew how easy it was to fall into false doctrine that sounds great, but will turn them away from the truth to their own destruction. He warned Timothy of the same thing.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)
So what’s the big deal? After all, one might say, Joel Osteen’s teachings are very encouraging and inspiring.
True. And I might have even passed by this blatant misuse of Scripture with a simple roll of the eyes had I not seen a comment someone made to my friend’s post. This is what she said:
I love reading this man’s updates. I get more out of him than any church I’ve ever attended! His themes focus on loving and believing in yourself and treating others the same……
This comment is what hit me between the eyes like a brick. I knew then that as a minister, indeed, as a Christian, I couldn’t stand by and just let this go. What if you had a friend who was a doctor and he or she saw you about to consume something that she knew was poison to your physical body? Would she be acting in a loving and caring way if she simply sat back and let you consume it? No. Because of what she knew, she has a moral responsibility to say something. More than that, if she truly loved you, she would definitely say something to you about the danger you are faced with.
So what did Osteen say that was so wrong?
First, let me say that the above quote represents the norm for Osteen. The proverbial “pull yourself up from your boot straps” message pervades his teaching. People are encouraged to see themselves in a better light, to remember their strengths, to dig down deep to find the goodness within them. His books teach us how to “become a better you,” and that our “best life is now.” So what’s wrong with those messages?
What’s wrong, to begin with, is that they are completely opposite of what the Bible teaches. And the biggest thing that is wrong is what is missing. The gospel.
The Biblical gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, first tells us the truth about our condition. All of us are hopelessly and helplessly lost in sin.
None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)
I realize many may see this and say, “You see. Nothing but doom and gloom and telling me how bad I am. I’d much rather listen to Joel Osteen who is positive.” But wait a minute. There is good news, but we can’t appreciate the good news without first realizing the truth of our condition.
You see, because of sin, we are all separated from God. We are spiritually dead and the Bible says we are already condemned because of it. This is a condition that does not call for humanistic self-encouragement. This is a condition that does not call for teaching that tells us to pull ourselves up from the boot straps and hold your head up high. We don’t need to be told that we aren’t weak. We need the truth!
And the truth is, we all need Jesus Christ! God, the One who created the heavens and the earth and can do as He pleases, gave us a Remedy for our sinful, lost condition.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
It is through Christ alone that we are rescued! It is through His death and resurrection that we are set free and find hope and freedom from the sin that bound us, and it is through that same resurrection that we will one day be forever free from the sorrow, shame, sickness, and death that is a part of this present life we now live in.
So, my friends, if I seem to be overly passionate about false teaching, it is only because that false teaching is blinding people to the only truth that can truly set them free from their true sinful condition, and keeping them from the only One who gives them true hope for eternal life where the curse of sin will be no more.
So then, when determining who to listen to, remember this. If the message points you to trust in Jesus Christ and His completed work on the cross, it is the true gospel. If it points you to yourself and becoming better by your own strength, run the other way! You might just be encountering a false teacher!