In Part 1 of What is Biblical Preaching?, I shared a video of one of Joel Osteen’s sermons. I also asked five questions about the sermon. The reason why I posted that video and asked those questions was to hopefully generate critical thinking and conversation and help you learn how to listen to sermons. Learning how to listen to sermons is critical for every believer if they are going to discern truth, mature and properly worship the LORD. However, learning how to listen to sermons first involves knowing the authority of sermons and the purpose of sermons. By authority, I mean where does the sermon originate or get its content. All sermons are to be rooted in the authoritative Scriptures and taught according to the intent of the author. The purpose of sermons is to instruct the head, affect the heart and move the hands of every believer to the end that they worship God and look more like Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Sermons are also to convict the unbeliever of their rebellious state and call for the responses of repentance and faith.
If sermons do not include an exposition of a biblical text and application for the listener, the preacher/pastor has not dealt faithfully with God’s Word and has not helped the listener understand who God is and what God demands. Unfortunately, the globe is littered with pastors who mishandle the Scriptures and deceive their congregations and listeners. In addition to erring pastors, there also are people who willingly desire false teaching for their own personal interests (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Joel Osteen’s sermon was titled “Remove Negative Labels” and here are my answers to the questions I posed.
1. What text was he preaching from?
After viewing this video more than once, I honestly cannot find where Osteen presents a chief text or passage of Scripture that communicates “removing negative labels”. The only time that he touched his Bible was in the very beginning of the message, but HE NEVER OPENED IT AND READ FROM IT. His message was not rooted in Scripture, but rather was a topic of interest whereby he sprinkled a few verses to justify his message. That kind of preaching is not faithful to the Bible nor ultimately helpful to the listener. What drove his agenda was his own desire, not the Bible.
2. What image of God did he paint?
One of the greatest benefits of reading Scripture is being exposed to the nature and character of God. Too often we create images of God in our own minds that simply aren’t true. The Scriptures, more so Jesus, give us the best image of the invisible God. Unfortunately because Joel didn’t faithfully teach the Bible, he didn’t communicate a fully biblical image of God/Christ. He painted a picture that God exists ultimately for our well-being on earth and as a means to a better life. He also said that God needed us to accomplish His will (14:50-15:17). If God needed us to accomplish His will, He would cease being God.
3. What image of man did he paint?
Again, the Scriptures clearly communicate the nature of man and man is best understood as God is understood. In other words, we can’t fully know ourselves until we know the One who created us. Osteen paints a picture of man having the power to remove negative labels simply by believing what God says we are. Although man was created good, he fell when he transgressed a command of God (Gen. 3) and several places in Scripture qualify man as a sinner, a rebel, evil, spiritual adulterers, murderers, liars, etc. This is our nature prior to salvation. Joel would’ve served his congregation better by telling them of the hope found in Jesus Christ. Outside of Christ we are condemned because of our sin.
4. Was the gospel presented?
Sadly, it wasn’t. Osteen’s sermon was a self-help message mixed with a few passages from the Scriptures taken severely out of context. The only way to “remove negative labels” is to repent of sin and become a new creation in Christ. This is what the gospel communicates and accomplishes because of the work of Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Osteen didn’t mention sin, repentance, faith, God’s holiness, the cross, the resurrection, etc.
5. How can we know if his teaching is true?
Be students of your Bible. I can’t say this enough. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) who tested even what Paul preached to them. Get some great study tools like an ESV Study Bible and Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. Also, learn the fundamental rules of biblical hermeneutics. There is an abundance of resources, but our primary resource is the Bible and the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Grace & Peace,