Monthly Archives: July 2017

Double-Mindedness

The American saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” expresses a truth acknowledged by other cultures.  The Albanians say, “To take a swim and not get wet.”  The Portuguese talk of “wanting the sun to shine on the threshing floor while it rains on the turnip field.”  In Vietnam, they warn “you gain one thing but lose the other.”  All of these acknowledge a basic truth:  you can’t have it both ways or you can’t have the best of both worlds.

      In the first chapter of his epistle, James urges those who lack wisdom to ask God “who gives to all liberally and without reproach” (verse 5).  His message is comforting.  When we find ourselves needing wisdom, we can trust God to bestow wisdom with generosity and without looking down on us for asking.  However, we should take care with our request.  God will not respond if we harbor doubts.

      Doubt comes in a variety of forms.  Some struggle with intellectual doubts.  Those with intellectual doubts believe in God, they want to serve God, but find themselves with uncertainties related to doctrine or theology.  Intellectual doubts, when approached with an honest desire to understand, can serve to strengthen one’s faith.  One need look no further than men like Habakkuk, Job, Solomon, or the Psalmists to see people of faith grappling with intellectual uncertainties. Others possess doubts that are volitional in nature.  They are skeptical of God or the Bible or Christianity (or all of the above) because they want to do what they want to do.  These uncertainties are rooted in a resistance to the will of God.  Finally, there are emotional doubts.  Most uncertainties fall into this final category and, to be frank, we all experience such doubts in varying degrees at various times.  Peter was overcome by an emotional doubt as he walked on the water toward Christ (see Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt, but what caused the doubt?  It was his fear of the waves and of potential death that caused Peter to sink.  Peter’s failure exposes an essential truth:  doubt is rooted in fear.

      Returning to James 1, our brother describes the one who doubts as “a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” a description reminiscent of Peter’s failure (verse 6 cf. with Matthew 14:30).  Verse 8 tells us why the brother of Jesus chose this comparison.  The one who mixes faith and doubt is double-minded and thereby unstable.  If a need for wisdom is recognized but the one asks for wisdom is uncertain if God will respond, He will not respond.  To acquire wisdom from God, we must be fully persuaded that He will give it when asked.  Any and all fears to the contrary must be pushed aside.   As James says, we cannot have it both ways.  Faith cannot coexist with doubt when asking for wisdom.

Double-mindedness and the instability it produces occurs in contexts other than asking for wisdom.  When Elijah challenged the priest of Baal on Mount Carmel, he challenged his countrymen, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).  Here is another case where people tried to have it both ways.  Israel counted Jehovah as a god among gods like Baal or goddesses like Asherah.  Elijah uncovers their double-mindedness with a Hebrew idiom, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?”  Paralyzed by indecision, Israel vacillated between serving Jehovah and serving Baal.  At this seminal moment, Elijah echoes Joshua’s final exhortation from an earlier generation:  “Choose this day whom you will serve” (24:15).  Regrettably, Israel maintained the status quo.  She tried to have it both ways and, predictably, the nation suffered a series of catastrophic upheavals.  For example, during the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth years of Judah’s King Azariah, assassinations and coup d’états brought four different kings to power in the northern kingdom of Israel (see 2 Kings 15:8-16).  Once again, the warning of James rings true:  double-mindedness creates instability.

The prophets and apostles of the New Testament translate the lessons of idolatry into the dangers of false teaching.  To eat meat offered to an idol is to eat from the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:21).  False teaching, says Paul, is inspired by the demonic realm (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  Behind idolatry and false teaching lies the influence of the fallen angels.  Like Israel dabbling with idolatry, the church must guard against mixing false teaching with the truth.  The churches of Galatia heeded the message of Jewish-Christians who insisted one must keep the law of Moses while serving Jesus Christ.  Their syncretism divided the Galatian churches from Christ and jeopardized their salvation (see Galatians 5:1-4).  In gaining Moses they lost Christ.

Unsurprisingly, double-mindedness in matters of faith gives rise to instability.  God designed the church to help us all become “a perfect man,” to attain, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:13-14).   A church that lends an ear to false teaching leads its members away from maturity in Christ and towards instability.  Time and again, Paul exhorts Titus and Timothy to teach sound doctrine lest they, or those they teach, suffer theological shipwreck (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:3-11, 18-20).  False teaching preys upon the unstable (see 2 Peter 2:14, 3:16).  Too many well-meaning but vulnerable souls have run their faith aground on the shoal of fear and doubt rather than anchoring their life on the rock of salvation.  The one who seeks Christ while succumbing to the winds and the waves has no sure foundation.  Doctrinal double-mindedness destabilizes faith.

 Mixing doubt with faith when asking for wisdom and doctrinal syncretism are just two examples of double-mindedness.  Clinging to worldliness and covetousness are two more symptoms of this mortal ailment.  Do not be deceived — double-mindedness is a soul killer.  It attempts to serve two masters and, as the Lord says, you can only serve one.  When we are double-minded and our two masters come into conflict, we ease the tension through compromise.  However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will notice that in those moments of compromise it is the Lord who loses out more often than not.  Friends, it is time to get out of the boat, to ignore the rolling tides, and fix our gaze on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Anything less than our full devotion is unworthy of Him.

 “Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.  I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore” (Psalm 86:11-12).

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;

It was not I that found, O Savior true;

No, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;

I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea

‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,

As thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but O the whole of love

Is but my answer, Lord to thee;

For thou wert long before-hand with my soul,

Always thou lovedst me.

~ Anonymous, 1878

Submitted by Kevin Crittenden

~ Wade Stanley

Motes and Beams

Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:2).  It’s a powerful statement. The Lord wasn’t speaking about discerning right from wrong. He was talking about how we discern people. We may see the surface behavior, but we can’t see the way the Lord sees. We cannot discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Lord gave fair warning about trying to do what only He can. “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:3).

Jesus extended this teaching. He pointed to potential problems among brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:4-5).

Here are two things: the speck and the plank. These are metaphors for human fallibility. Of the two, a speck in the eye is less dangerous than a plank. Imagine a stick of quarter-round molding jammed into an eye socket. That seems deadly enough. But a plank? That is a caved-in face. It is a lesson about judging our brethren.

Jesus shows us that we can see the speck in our brother’s eye without being judgmental. In fact, He shows us it is possible to see clearly enough to remove the speck. Clarity is good and productive. Character flaws are good to outgrow. Helping one another in such matters is proper. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Therefore, seeing a problem clearly is not the same as judging, at least in the context of this teaching.

A speck in the eye is a small thing that is irritating. In this case, it is more irritating to the beholder than to the one who has the speck. The one who has the speck may not even be aware of it. But the beholder may start to think, “What’s the matter with him?  Doesn’t he know how stupid that looks?  If I were him I would _____________.  How ridiculous!” Soon the beholder of the speck has amassed a case against said brother. He assumes the Lord’s seat while sitting in the seat of the scorner. The beholder is preparing a plank for himself. He bludgeons his own face. Friendships can be destroyed in the process, harm that can last beyond reckoning. Just as the one who has the speck may not realize it, so the plank-in-eye may not realize what he is doing, born out of irritation.

How can one remove a plank from his own eye? One thing is to not take for granted our own wisdom or goodness, as if we are self-assured of such things. It is a trait of gentle humility. We can see that eleven of the twelve apostles were taught this good trait. Jesus had told them things about themselves they did not know.

   “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

   “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?”

   “Get behind Me, Satan!”

   “You do not know what you ask.”

   “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

Near the end of Jesus’ stay on earth we see some growth. Note their response when Jesus cited a traitor in their midst. “And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, ‘Lord, is it I?’” (Matthew 26:22). It appears they learned enough humility to question their own motives. Jesus depicted the righteous on the day of judgment as a people not self-assured. “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?” (Matthew 25:27).  Therefore, humility is a good thing for pulling out the planks of being self-wise and arrogant. Since Jesus has departed and sent the Comforter, we have the Spirit’s testimony, the perfect law of liberty to help us see.  “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).  Comparing ourselves with what the Bible teaches makes us less apt to focus on the flaws of others.

“It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11).  If we are counseled by the Bible to overlook a transgression, then it stands to reason that God overlooks transgressions. Does man have greater glory than God? Discretion is what enables a person to see there are other things to be considered. There is a common sense saying, “You need to pick your battles.” In other words, there are some specks in the eye that should be overlooked, lest we smother and provoke. In such a scene, there is no iron sharpening iron, just blunting and nicking. Overlooking a fault prepares the way for greater needs.

There is a way to see clearly as we behold a speck. It is to behold the beauty of this soul the Lord has created. Attributes of the Spirit are to be found in abundance among the brethren. This is the substance of deepest friendship. Seeing this beauty enables us to gently remove those minor details of our humanity.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (Philippians 2:1-3).

Specks or motes in the eye are common. They occur through the everyday grit of life. We can nurse these irritations into scorn, or we can tighten the bonds of friendship. “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).

~ Louis Garbi