The apostle James warns against being double-minded. What is double-mindedness, and what are its consequences?
In his New Testament letter, the apostle James twice uses the term double-minded (James:1:8; James:4:8). Being double-minded is a problem that can damage Christians and can manifest itself in several areas of their lives.
The Greek word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos , from dis , meaning "twice," and psuche , meaning "mind." James uses it to describe someone who is divided in his interests or loyalties, wavering, uncertain, two-faced, half-hearted. We will see double-mindedness as a theme throughout his letter.
Even godly men in the Bible sometimes lapsed into double-mindedness. John, who baptized Jesus Christ, saw the Holy Spirit descend upon the Savior "in bodily form like a dove" and heard a voice from heaven declare, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased" (Luke:3:21-22). Yet, after landing in prison, where he would ultimately be beheaded, John sent men to Christ asking, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke:7:19-20).
John the Baptist was human, and we humans begin to doubt when God seems not to respond to our prayers during a crisis. Even though John's words reflected doubt, Christ described him as greater than any prophet born before him (Luke:7:28). We should be encouraged that, as we humbly seek God's will and way of life, He promises to remember us according to our victories in the faith, just as He considered John the Baptist.
Praying with doubt?
The first area of double-mindedness James addressed concerns how we pray (James:1:5-8). James describes one who is dubious and indecisive in prayer as "a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
Doubt and irresoluteness in our communication with God short-circuit our relationship with Him. Before asking God for anything, we should first ask ourselves questions that directly bear on our prayers:
Is what I am asking according to His will? The apostle John tells us why this is important: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John:5:14, emphasis added throughout).
Are my attitude and life in tune with the will of God? John stresses the role of obedience: "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John:3:22).
Are my motives self-centered or God-centered? James says be careful what you pray for: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James:4:3).
If we can answer yes to the first two questions and "God-centered" to the third question, then we should have no problem staying single-minded in prayer. Of course, we can't earn or force a particular response from God. God responds to us according to His mercy and righteousness, not ours.
Hearing without doing?
James's second warning concerns the double-minded hearing of God's Word (James:1:22-25). He shows that double-mindedness can creep into our attitude, and he admonishes his readers to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (verse 22). The follower of Christ should feel happy after reading God's Word, but reading the Bible should be a means to an end, to becoming Christlike. We should go beyond just feeling good to actually striving to be good. A pleasant, satisfied feeling can deceive us into thinking we have accomplished something when we haven't.
The story of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ to His mother, Mary, has inspired many, and rightfully so. Yet few are motivated by the story to follow Christ's example and will.
Luke 11 tells the story of a woman so moved by the words and miracles of Jesus Christ that she exclaimed, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" But Christ responded with another perspective: "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (verses 27-28).
Christ talked of imprudent people whose lives are not built on the Rock. Everyone "who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them" is "foolish" (Matthew:7:24-26, emphasis added throughout). Conversely, those who want to obey Christ will "do" His sayings.
Although no one can earn salvation by anything he does, we can lose our salvation by being "hearers only" (Hebrews:2:1-4).
Our fellowship can mirror our double-mindedness, wrote James. Do wealthy church members receive special treatment when they "come into your assembly"? (James:2:2). The Greek for assembly is translated elsewhere as "congregation" and "synagogue." James addressed the conduct of Christians in their assemblies.
In some congregations in James's day, the rich apparently garnered more respect and qualified for better seating than did the poor. As a result, James admonished congregations not to show "partiality among yourselves" (verse 4) by having people's seating arrangements follow some ranking or pecking order of wealth or status.
James was aware of the problems that can result from hypocritical, two-faced fellowship, because he was indirectly involved in a conflict between the apostles Paul and Peter (Galatians:2:11-16). Peter showed partiality in fellowship when "certain men came from James" (Galatians:2:12). These verses show that Peter was as subject to human weakness as the rest of us. In this instance he "would eat with the Gentiles; but when they [Jewish believers sent from James] came, he withdrew and separated himself [from eating with the gentiles], fearing those who were of the circumcision."
Sadly, "the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy."
Peter grew into a great leader and man of God, but in this instance he strayed from a lesson Jesus had taught him years before through a vision. "In truth I perceived that God shows no partiality," Peter learned at the time of the revelation. "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts:10:34-35).
In the Greek theater, actors would speak ( krinomai ) from behind a mask ( hypo ). Together the Greek words for speak and mask form hupokrisis , from which we get our word hypocrisy. Are we ever so swayed by peer pressure that we figuratively wear masks around certain people to stay in their good graces? We must be vigilant to avoid straying outside the proper boundaries of being "all things to all men" (1 Corinthians:9:19-22) to the point of contradicting ourselves or, worse, contradicting God.
Jesus Christ sets the ultimate example of not being a "respecter of persons" (Acts:10:34, King James Version). This old English phrase doesn't mean we shouldn't respect anyone. A modern translation makes the meaning clear, that we should follow the example of God, who "shows no partiality." Jesus proved His impartiality by sacrificing His life for everyone, regardless of rank or privilege.
Ironically, when certain men sent by the Pharisees acknowledged that Jesus Christ did "not regard the person of men" (Matthew:22:16), they were speaking from behind a mask themselves because their motive was to "entangle Him in His talk" (Matthew:22:15). Needless to say, they failed.
Romans:2:11 confirms that "there is no partiality with God." Our Creator impartially judges us (Ephesians:6:9; Colossians:3:25; 1 Peter:1:17).
Next, James targets double-minded keeping of the law (James:2:8-13). For centuries the Christian world has been of two minds concerning God's law. Its double-mindedness has resulted in the breaking of "the royal law according to the scripture" (James:2:8). The Old Testament records God's giving of the royal law, which is summarized in Leviticus 19: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus:19:18).
How does one break this law of love? A common way is the breaking of even "one point" (James:2:10) of the royal law.
James goes from discussing the royal law of Leviticus:19:18 to enumerating the Ten Commandments. He cites two of the Commandments: the seventh, "Do not commit adultery," and the sixth, "Do not murder" (Exodus:20:13-14). He calls the Ten Commandments "the perfect law of liberty" (James:1:25)
The royal law, the perfect law of liberty, shows mankind the way to express love. When we read the 10 points of this law as summarized in the Commandments, we notice that the first four reflect love toward God and the last six depict love of our fellowman; that is, the love of our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus:19:18; James:2:8).
James shows the double-mindedness of embracing one point of the Ten Commandments while breaking another point of this law of love. Notice that the breaking of one point of the law is the same as breaking the "whole law" (James:2:10-11).
God's law expresses His will
Jesus Christ prophesied a time after His return when He will say to many who cry out to Him, "Lord, Lord." He will reply to some who say this: "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matthew:7:21-23). Regardless of how much one believes in Him, Christ said that only "he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew:7:21) will enter His Kingdom. Here God's will and law are spoken of together, because His law is an expression of His will.
James warned against inconsistency in our obedience to God. It's much easier to pay lip service to the broad expression of God's royal law—love (Leviticus:19:18)—than to embrace the specifics of it (Exodus:20:1-17). After all, without specifics each person decides for himself what love is. The Bible, however, plainly defines love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John:5:3).
What sin do you hate the most? Stealing? Lying? Adultery? God wants us to hate every sin. He wants us to hate the breaking of any of the Ten Commandments, as well as anything else that is not "pleasing in His sight" (1 John:3:22).
Faith without works?
Double-minded faith (James:2:14-26) is not the wavering in one's belief in God. Rather, double-minded faith is believing in God without performing the actions, or the "works," that reflect that belief. James wanted his readers to know that faith means more than just belief in God. Every Christian should be aware that "faith without works is dead" (James:2:20). James challenges us to show tangible evidence of our beliefs: "Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (verse 18).
Belief is not enough, he says. "Even the demons believe-and tremble!" (James:2:19). It is much easier to tremble at the thought of God's existence than it is to fear to disobey God. A classic example is ancient Israel. The Israelites quaked with fear before God's awesome presence when God gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus:20:18-19). But, when they could no longer see the evidence of God's nearness to them, they fabricated a golden calf (Exodus 32) while they should have been trembling at the explicit instructions God had revealed to them.
Of Abraham's example of faith, James poses a question for every Christian: "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" (James:2:22).
Have you ever tried to keep from saying the wrong thing but you just couldn't, and an inappropriate comment just popped out of your mouth? Of course, you have.
If with our tongue "we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men" (James:3:9), then we're speaking out of both sides of our mouth and are, therefore, double-minded (James:3:1-12). James calls the tongue "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison," because abusive conversation can undermine the powerful influences of prayer, the inspired reading of God's Word, the impartial treatment of people, and faith with works.
Before passing along information that could hurt someone, we should ask ourselves: Does this need to be said, or do I just want to say it? Would more harm come by saying it or not saying it? If it needs to be said, am I sharing it with the right person?
Imagine how the news and entertainment media, politics and our social lives could be enhanced and improved if we were to first think things through the way James thought them through.
"For we often stumble and fall, all of us. If there is any one who never stumbles in speech, that man has reached maturity of character and is able to curb his whole nature" (James:3:2, Weymouth New Testament). Our conversation—our speech—speaks to our spiritual maturity or lack of it.
From the heart
Before examining the words that flow from our mouth we should examine the thoughts of our minds and hearts, for, as Jesus said, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew:12:34).
We cannot always control what we hear, but we can control what we hold dear in our hearts. Each day Satan, the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians:2:2), relentlessly inspires a multitude of improper thoughts. We must "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians:10:5, New International Version).
We are bombarded with "corrupt" communication (Ephesians:4:29) from coworkers, fellow students and acquaintances. Movies and magazines transmit values, morals and behavior far removed from those God expects of His followers.
Nevertheless, we must assimilate God's words and ideals; they must become a part of us; we must keep them in our minds and hearts. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded," counsels the writer of the epistle (James:4:8). We should pray without doubting, read God's Word with great care, fellowship without bias, have faith while consistently keeping God's law, and speak edifying words that inspire friends and brethren to honor God.
With single-minded attention to God's will as shown in His Word, we can draw near to God and He will draw near to us.