Watch Out For Truth-Twisters!
Consider yourself forewarned that this is a long post. Consider yourself further forewarned that I’m highly perturbed about some heavy issues that God has laid on my mind recently. I just needed to document many thoughts. Lately I’ve been very frustrated as I look across the nation and see the deceit that has overtaken some (definitely not all) churches here in the US and across the world. I’m not angered by a particular person as much as I’m angered by a particular mentality. However, I’ll focus on a particular person in order to draw out particular quotes that summarize what I’m talking about. I pray that you won’t take these remarks as slams against an individual. I simply want to caution you not to let any parts of this mentality creep into your life.
Joel Osteen is the pastor of the largest church in America: Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, which averages over 25,000 attendees every weekend. He has the most popular television ministry in the US. He’s a blatant health-wealth-prosperity preacher who maintains that we will prosper materially if we just believe. Further, he says, people already know they’re bad, so why should he continue to drill that truth into them? His message has taken our nation by storm. It is what people want to hear.
Joel Osteen says, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Joel Osteen says, “If we say it long enough eventually we’re going to reap a harvest. We’re going to get exactly what we’re saying.” Joel Osteen says, “It’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty.” Joel Osteen says, “You may make some mistakes-but that doesn’t make you a sinner. You’ve got the very nature of God on the inside of you.”
A few comments come to mind. First, the ultimate end of God is not to make us prosper materially. He provides for our every need, but He doesn’t intend for material wealth to be the end for which we strive. Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matthew 19:21).” Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).” Jesus said through the apostle John, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).” God is all for rewards – just not earthly rewards. He’s for storing up treasure in heaven. God despises material goods insofar as they distract us from Jesus Christ, who is intrinsically the ultimate Good. Material things are given to us by God to so that we would see Him (James 1:17). The health-wealth-prosperity “gospel” makes “stuff” an end in itself. Ultimately, their religion is not Christianity, it is materialism.
This teaching is most dangerous because its preachers attempt to make points from Scripture by taking a lot of verses out of context simply to make their point. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Osteen says,
“The unseen is the spiritual realm where the promises of God exist…When you fix your eyes on the unseen—the promises of God—your faith will not be moved by your circumstances and you’ll eventually see those promises come to pass…as you continue to fix your spiritual eyes on the unseen promises of God, you will see those things come to pass in the natural and you will move forward into the abundant life the Lord has for you!”
In actuality, these verses are not comparing physical to physical. They’re comparing physical to spiritual. Paul is not saying that our problem is that we’re not focused enough on the material blessings we’ll receive if we just believe. Paul is saying, “The things of the world are temporal and superficial, while the things of heaven are everlasting and the key to joy. Fix your eyes on those realities even as you live on this earth.” It’s in the context of not losing heart because we have a home in heaven. You can read it for yourself in 2 Corinthians 4. I would share more examples of how health-wealth-prosperity preachers twist Scripture, but this post is getting long and I have more to say. Research this for yourself!
Also, how can any “gospel” ignore the issue of sin? How can there be any gospel at all if sin is not acknowledged? The gospel cannot land on us rightly if we’re not stunned by what Jesus did at the cross for us though we were so undeserving. Sin is the very reality that makes the gospel huge; if our sin is not huge to us, we won’t feel the need for a huge Savior. I shudder at any teaching that ignores the doctrine of total depravity simply to please its followers. That is blasphemous and far from Biblical. And the health-wealth-prosperity teaching does just that. One cannot love grace if one follows Osteen and others like him.
The health-wealth-prosperity gospel would do little to comfort me in deep affliction. The last thing I need when I’m suffering is a well-groomed, smiling man on TV telling me that everything will be peachy if I just believe. What about all the people that get sicker and/or die whether we pray or not? What about the economy that continues to decline despite the many prayers that have been offered? What about family conflicts that seemingly don’t improve even though we intensely desire them to improve? My friends, the health-wealth-prosperity gospel is scandalous because it attempts to sway people with sugar-coated words that are not based in reality. We don’t hope that God will take our pain away and make us rich on this earth. In fact, Jesus said that just the opposite is likely to happen (John 16:33). We hope in the imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance that is being kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4)!
I say these things for two reasons. First, I don’t want anyone reading this post to do what so many of these preachers do. That is, I don’t want any of us (myself included) to make the Bible say what we want it to say by taking verses out of context. We must pour over the Bible to see what God wants to tell us through it, not what we want God to tell us through it. We must be led by the Spirit so we can know what the Bible actually means. Second, I want us to remember afresh that something that is not based on reality cannot give hope. That’s why we need to encourage and exhort each other with Scripture taken in context. Again, we need God’s Spirit. Cliché positive phrases will do little to comfort a suffering soul, particularly when their suffering does not alleviate in this life to the extent that we think it should. However, Bible-saturated, gospel-drenched words give comfort no matter what the circumstance. We need to know the Word so we can comfort our brothers and sisters well.
Be on your guard for truth-twisters. They’re all around us. Let’s pray that we don’t fall into the same traps ourselves. Praise God that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)! Don’t fear as you rest in His Word. He will cause you to discern true renderings of it by His Spirit.