I love it when a phrase in a book or a comment from a friend prompts an unexpectedly deep Bible study. Just last week, someone in my church’s scripture writing group suggested we study the phrase “double-minded.” Since there are only two verses in the Bible that use this word (at least in most translations), it sounded like a challenging and intriguing study. It’s also a study that’s relevant to things we struggle with today. It’s so easy to find ourselves becoming filled with worry, questions, and doubt. There are so many different versions of “truth” being marketed today, and it gets confusing. We need to be clear in our own minds what we believe and why so that we’re not double-minded. I hope you’ll find reading about this topic as fascinating–and helpful–as I did. We begin in the opening part of James’s epistle.
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8, NET
The word translated “double-minded” is dipsuchos, meaning “two spirited,” “vacillating” (Strong’s Dictionary), “wavering, uncertain, doubting,” and “divided in interest” (Thayer’s Dictionary). It comes from two words: dis (twice, again) and psuche (breath, spirit). Zodhiates adds that “such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (dictionary entry 1374). Sounds like something a lot of Christians struggle with today, doesn’t it? James is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it appears once again closer to the end of his epistle.
Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.James 4:7-10, WEB
Though there are only two verses using this word, James makes it clear that being “double-minded” is not a good thing. From the context as we read James 1:8, we can say that faith and stability are the opposites of double-mindedness. Then James 4:8 recommends that the double-minded purify their hearts, indicating that being double-minded has something to do with the state of our hearts. It also appears to be something that we can fix, and which God will help us correct.
How Long Will You Waver?
In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah confronted the people of Israel about their idolatry. They’d constantly sway back and forth between faith in God and following pagan religions. This wavering, uncertain, divided loyalty was not something that pleased God.
Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word.1 Kings 18:21, NET
You can click here to read the entire story. Right now, I want to focus in on the phrase “paralyzed by indecision.” The more literal translation from Hebrew would be, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?” (NET footnote). Here, though, it’s an idiomatic phrase and does not refer to physical disability or injury. It’s a picture of someone’s thoughts and loyalty swaying back and forth unsteadily, similar to how James describes the double-minded individual as tossed by the sea. Other translations of this phrase in 1 Kings 18 include, “How long will you waver between the two sides?” (WEB) and “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (NKJV).
The need for us to set doubt aside and be loyal to God alone is also discussed in the New Testament. In his Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts, Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NET). We’re not meant to live in a state of indecision. Knowing who Jesus is removes doubt and replaces it with faith. This sort of faith is absolutely essential, “for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6, NET). We don’t have to get rid of all doubt before we come to Jesus, but at the very least we need to reach a point where we can say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NET).
Don’t Divide Your Loyalty
The only other Bible verse that uses the word “double-minded” is found in certain translations of Psalm 119:113. In the World English Bible it’s translated, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.” The New King James Version is almost identical: “I hate the double-minded.” Offering a slightly different reading, the New English Translation says, “I hate people with divided loyalties.” We cannot afford to live as double-minded people with divided loyalties. It’s impossible to be loyal to God and serve things that are incompatible with His way of life.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.Matthew 6:24, WEB
Our loyalty and service belongs to God alone. We must follow Jesus’s example of rejecting the siren call of temptation and say, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him'” (Matt. 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13, NET). This is exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” right before he said, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, WEB). God wants the entirety of our hearts, not just the pieces leftover after we do other things in our lives.
O Lord, teach me how you want me to live.Psalm 86:11-12, NET
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks with my whole heart.
I will honor your name continually.
Learning to Have an Undivided Mind
Though there are only 2 or 3 scriptures that directly talk about being double-minded, many scriptures talk about the importance of having “one mind” and being “like-minded” with other believers. This doesn’t mean that believers will all have the same personalities, types of lives, or individual opinions. Rather, this like-mindedness is rooted in all of us learning to think in the same way that God thinks. If we’ve been recipients of God’s spirit, then “we have Christ’s mind” (1 Cor. 2:16, WEB). The more we learn to have the same mind as Christ, the more like-minded we become with each other as well.
Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 15:5-6, WEB
God wants His people to live in unity. We’re meant to care for every follower of Christ as much as we care for ourselves. We’re to work on resolving differences peacefully and prayerfully, seeking to have God’s perspective rather than defend our own opinions. We’re to replace double-mindedness, doubt, and instability with faith and loyalty, following the example of Jesus Christ in how we act and think.
For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.2 Corinthians 10:3-5, WEB
Through the power of God working inside us, we can choose to change our thoughts. Whether our minds are divided or whole is in large part up to us. We’re not helpless victims of our own doubt but rather mighty warriors who are strong in the Lord. Through Him, we have the power to overcome worry, doubt, and division and instead commit ourselves to lives full of faith.
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