What do you think of when you hear the phrase “double-minded”? Dictionary.com defines double-minded as “wavering or undecided in mind.” This is clearly not a desirable trait, but it’s easy to fall into. And the Bible warns us of the danger of being “double-minded,” but it does so, using even more colorful language.
So, what does it mean to be “double-minded” and why is it dangerous?
Consider James 1:5-8.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Before we understand the danger of being “double-minded,” we have to backup. In context, James is talking about trials. And James encourages us to come to God as beggars for wisdom so that we will know how to navigate our trials. Using an analogy of the sea (since James does in 1:6-7):
Wisdom gives us the ability to steer the sail while voyaging through unknown and treacherous waters.
We call these “waters” trials. James is not necessarily talking about the challenges we put ourselves into, or temptations that may try to lead us down the wrong path (he addresses that in James 1:13-18). For James, trials are the things that we come upon as a by-product of living in this fallen world. We run into challenges and trials without having to search them out! And admittedly, we all find ourselves in trials more often than we choose to be. Therefore, seeking God’s wisdom is key to help make sense and make the most of our present challenges.
The wise person is contrasted with the “double-minded” person. The true danger of the double-minded is answered in what the word means in Greek.
What we translate as “double-minded” comes from the Greek word dipsychos, which is a compound word. The compound word means “two souls.” James, apparently, coined this word since it only appears in Greek (Christian) literature after the writing of his letter but never before. What he means to imply by calling someone “a man of two souls” is to say they have two contrasting lives, which are at war in the same body. It is a derogatory term, to say the least, calling someone a walking contradiction; a person who lives two lives in one body. The very life force (the soul) of the “double-minded” is pulling in two different directions.
To be called “two souls” or “double-minded” is to say that the person is spiritually schizophrenic.
This is more than being two-faced, where being two-faced is just a charade, but being “two-souled” is a genuine problem that leads to complete instability. It is the lack of a mature faith since it doubts God, the very opposite of what our faith journey should compel us towards—trusting God.
The danger then is in how one lives with “two souls,” unable to commit to any course of action in the midst of trials. The “man of two-souls” sees a fork in the road and cannot choose which route, ending up being unstable and in danger because they do not feel confident or commit to a choice of action. And in the context of James, it is the person who cannot choose between trusting God or trusting something else. They are “two-souled” in this way. One day they trust God, the next they don’t. It is a spiritually dangerous way to live! James wants to exhort disciples of Christ to be “single-minded” (i.e. wholehearted in their devotion to God in the midst of various trials). (Compare this with Deuteronomy 6:5, where the believer is told to love God with their “whole heart.”)
So, how can we avoid being a “two-souled” person?
We make the choice to lean into God even when we do not feel like it. We see the trials we face for what they are. And then, in response, we ask God to navigate us through our trials when we need wisdom. Have you ever hesitated to ask someone for counsel or advice because of how they may make you feel? James tells us that God will not disgrace you for asking for help.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. (James 1:5, MSG)
God does not humiliate us when we come to Him seeking wisdom and understanding in the midst of our trials. He will never disgrace someone who leans into His grace. He won’t make us feel like an idiot for needing wisdom. On the contrary, He is “the giving God” (as the Greek reads) who desires to give us wisdom when we come to Him in faith. If we want to see trials as occasions of joy, sometimes it will take looking at it through Heaven’s eyes. This is when we must seek the giving God for wisdom. And those who have wisdom from above can handle the stormy waves down below.