Last updated on June 14th, 2018
In 2014, Victoria Osteen, wife of mega-church pastor Joel Osteen, made a very controversial statement. She said:
“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?”
The joy of the Lord
It’s true that the Christian can find happiness in serving God, but even atheists obtain happiness by singing songs, doing charity work, and helping others. This sort of happiness is based on wellbeing and personal achievement. It is not to be confused with the ‘joy of the Lord’, which is a faith-based joy unrelated to positive circumstances.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11 v 1
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” – Hebrews 11 v 6
Faith is the belief in what we cannot see, the trust in God’s promises towards us. It is the opposite of hoping for happiness in this world; it is the hope of happiness in the world to come.
We read in the New Testament that the early Christians experienced joy in the most trying of circumstances. For example, the following passage describes how the Apostles Paul and Barnabas suffered persecution:
“But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” – Acts 13 v 50-52
In this passage, it’s obvious that Paul and Barnabas failed to turn the people to Christ, suffered ill treatment, and were thrown out of the city; therefore, any joy they experienced was certainly not due to their state of wellbeing or personal achievement. Rather, they had joy in knowing that through suffering in doing God’s work they would have a reward in heaven:
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5 v 11-12
In the Old Testament, God sent the prophets to his people many times, telling them to cease from wickedness, and to follow God’s ways. The people would often turn against the prophets, whose lives were usually filled with suffering and death. If God is happy when we are happy, why would he allow his prophets to suffer so greatly? Moreover, we are told that all who do God’s work face persecution and tribulation:
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” – John 16 v 33
The joy that the Christian should experience is not in things that give us pleasure in this world, it is the joy that is found in our hope of heaven:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” – Matthew 13 v 44
If we treasure the things of God, in order to obtain salvation we will sacrifice everything we have, along with worldly security and pleasures. The things of this world pale in comparison to that which we shall receive in heaven. Our joy should be in things eternal, not of this world.
Happiness in this world
Happiness is a good thing, and God certainly doesn’t demand that we spend our lives miserable. The Bible doesn’t say that happiness is wrong, but tells us not to focus on the pursuit of happiness in this world, and not to put our lives in this world before God:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” – 1 John 2 v 15-17
We are clearly told not to be selfish, but to be humble and care about the needs of others, rather than living life purely to please ourselves:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” – Philippians 2 v 3-4
Following Christ is to sacrifice a life centred around worldly pleasure in order to gain eternal salvation:
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” – Luke 9 v 23-25
If we focus on our happiness in this word then we are less likely to stand up against persecution, and are more likely to compromise our faith and turn against the word of God. With such emphasis on our happiness, it is no wonder that modern Christians have rejected the Bible as the infallible word of God. Many Christians have accepted things going against the Bible in order to fit in with the secular world view – to avoid persecution.
Do all for the glory of God
Osteen’s statement really claims that God’s ultimate aim is for our happiness in this world, and that our outlook on life should be self-centred. It is saying that singing to God or doing good should not be done to glorify God, making out that glorifying God is unimportant. She is saying that the main reason we should do the things God tells us to do is because it will give us pleasure. This attitude is becoming prevalent in the modern Church, but goes completely against the Bible.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” – Colossians 3 v 16
The above passage reveals that psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are to be based on the word of God. Singing should be to the Lord, but the words should be written so that in hearing the songs we are taught by them, and our focus put on things that are holy.
The word ‘praise’ means to express respect and gratitude. Praising God should not be done with the objective of making oneself happy, it should be to express honour and thankfulness to God. If we become the focus, rather than God, then it is no more than gratification-seeking, looking for a pleasurable and emotional experience, which is no different than taking recreational drugs.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10 v 31
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5 v 16
The Bible clearly tells us that, rather than all things being done for our own happiness, all things should be done to the glory of God:
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” – Matthew 6 v 2
The rich men of Jesus’ time did all of their good deeds publicly, to be seen of men: when they gave money in the synagogue they would make sure that people knew they were giving it, and how much they were giving. Jesus said, “They have their reward.” They were doing religious things for their own glory and pleasure, to satisfy their ego, rather than giving glory to God.
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” – Matthew 6 v 3-4
Christians are encouraged to do good secretly, without gaining the praise of mankind, and without any beneficial reward in this life. The only people who would find this behaviour unacceptable are those who have no faith in God.
The reason we are to praise God, do good, and follow God’s commands is to acknowledge that he is holy, and that his ways are upright. We are to give God the glory because he is perfect and without sin, and because we ourselves would desire to be like him. Moreover, our actions should reflect God in a positive light, encouraging others to seek him.
A life of suffering
God’s desire for our happiness is not based in this world. Here on earth the Christian is called to a life of suffering; God will allow us to be unhappy in this temporal world if it means that we can attain happiness in eternity. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12 v 7-10
Regarding suffering, we read that suffering is the lot of those who will follow Christ:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5 v 10-12
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Romans 8 v 17-18
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” – Romans 8 v 35-37
Does this sound like a God who wants us to focus on our own happiness, and who’s greatest desire is for our earthly pleasure? If God’s aim is for our happiness in this temporal world, why would he allow Christians to suffer, and why would he claim that suffering for his sake is a blessing? It is clear that God tells us to look towards our heavenly reward, that our lives here are temporal, and that we are to store up treasure in heaven. If we find happiness here on earth then this is a blessing in itself, and one in which we should glorify God, but for this to be our aim in life is an outlook that will only lead us away from God.