Question: I sent a copy of your recent TBC Update on Joel Osteen [author of the bestseller, Your Best Life Now] (http://www.thebereancall.org/content/joel-osteen-unsure-if-jesus-was-poor) to a friend of mine on staff with Joel’s ministry asking if he had any thoughts in regard to the article. He stated [excerpts from a long reply], “To be honest, I can’t really discern what [the writer’s] point is. Does he have some inside knowledge that I don’t regarding the actual amount of funds that were carried in the treasury that Judas oversaw? Like Joel [Osteen] says, it’s curious that the robe Jesus was wearing was valuable enough that the soldiers were dividing it up. But also like Joel, I don’t really think about it much.
“Why is it so important that Jesus be poor? Is that like a tenet of faith? If so, I never got the memo. As for the ‘foxes have holes’ quote, I don’t see how that refers to financial wealth. To me it’s far more likely about the fact that He was not stationary. He was on a mission and on the move. That to follow Him meant that one would have to do the same, forsaking all and going with Him wherever the Spirit led them…. Joel simply believes, as do I, that God has promised to supply all our needs. He believes...that the apostle John meant what he said when he wrote, ‘I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.’”
Response: Our concern here is the distortion of what the Bible teaches about biblical prosperity. Those who are word-faith/healing and prosperity gospel teachers (including Joel Osteen and his father, John, in his ministry) have all supported the unbiblical idea that the spiritual hallmark of a faithful follower is riches and good health. According to their claim, if a person lacks those things, it’s due to his or her lack of faith. They also mistakenly use Jesus as the model of the result of such beliefs, especially wealth.
There is no indication in Scripture that Jesus was wealthy. What He did have was through the generosity of those who ministered to him. Luke:8:3 indicates where the Lord Jesus may have obtained not only the robe but much of His earthly support: “Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others…provided for Him from their substance.” In Scripture, we see several wealthy women who had a role (no doubt moved by the Holy Spirit) in giving to Jesus’ ministry. Since the giver was likely wealthy, the garment given to Jesus would naturally reflect that. Such scriptures document that Jesus was not rich in earthly possessions. He relied on others in order to support His travels and earthly ministry. Furthermore, Scripture teaches us how He lived and how the apostles who were trained by Him lived. Paul wrote that he knew both how to “abound” and how to be “abased.” The “abasing” part is what the word-faith teachers do not teach other than to say that it reflects a lack of faith.
A common argument in support of Christ’s wealth is the fact that He wore a seamless garment, supposedly of greater value than a two- or three-piece one would have been. Yet a study of history reveals that Roman soldiers were allowed to “supplement” their income by confiscation. The point of the seamless garment being mentioned was that it could not easily be divided. The soldiers gambled for it, thus fulfilling Psalm:22:18: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” Therefore, even if the one-piece garment was more valuable, that hardly supports the belief that Christ was wealthy. It may have been a gift.
Regarding the “foxes have holes” quote, Jesus said in Luke:9:57-58, “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” In fact, this states that the Lord had no earthly home to return to, let alone a mansion. Christ was indeed “on a mission and on the move,” as your friend notes, and to follow Him meant that one would have to do the same, “forsaking all and going with Him wherever the Spirit led them.”
Certainly the Lord provides faithfully, but that provision is often diametrically opposed to human expectation and the distortion the “faith” teachers give it. Everything the Lord provides for a believer is according to His will. That fact, however, rails against the teaching that God’s provision works according to spiritual laws, which the practitioner must learn in order to implement them. If that doesn’t produce the desired result, then the fault lies with the one misapplying the laws. That delusion is no different from witchcraft.
Some prominent word/faith ministries have not one but two Gulfstream jets, which means that not only must they purchase two planes, but they must also pay two trained flight crews for each one, not to mention ongoing hangar costs and maintenance. Is that what constitutes biblical prosperity? Consider Benny Hinn’s take on God’s provision: “Years ago they used to preach, ‘O we are going to walk on streets of gold.’ I would say, ‘I don’t need the gold up there. I’ve got to have it down here’” (Praise-a-Thon, TBN, April 2, 1991).
Yes, the Lord provides all things necessary for us, but emphasizing the “abounding” that Paul on occasion experienced, we miss the point that the Lord is teaching: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” He states that at times he was “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor:11:27). Was Paul out of God’s will? No. God had allowed him to experience such conditions for his growth in the faith. Learning to be content in every state doesn’t come about when one is only prospering materially.
The saddest part in all of this is that many who follow Joel Osteen’s “positive” gospel are not taught the Bible’s clear warnings that we will suffer on this earth, and therefore they miss the biblical truth that such suffering provides excellent opportunities for spiritual maturity (see “The Value of Suffering” www.thebereancall.org/content/value-suffering).