What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The princes come to Balaam and tell him what Balak has asked. Then, when Balaam goes to God, he leaves out some of what the princes said. After God gives His answer, Balaam reports back to the princes, this time leaving out some of what God said. Finally, when the men return to Balak, all they say is, "He is not coming."
So, we can see a great deal of deception going on, in which each party tries to slant the conversations to its advantage. The princes certainly do not want Balak angry at them because they failed in their mission, and Balaam did not want to tell the princes all that God had said to him because he wants them to come back with more money.
We cannot take this story at face value. This is what Balaam did for a living; this is how he made his money. He was a sorcerer for hire—for pay—and he is negotiating here. We have just read a sorcerer's negotiation for his hire.
The first thing Balaam did wrong (from our perspective) he did immediately: The princes waltz into his courtyard, saying, "Balak wants you to come and curse Israel for him." Balaam replies, "Oh. Let me think about that. In the meantime, why don't you stay the night? Here, I'll put you up and feed you." He probably entertained them—perhaps he performed parlor tricks for them. But, in such a situation, what should a Christian have done? What should just a good person have done? He should have said, "Go back to your master!" and not even listened to them.
The apostle John tells us what to do should anyone come to our house and wants us to do evil, to go against the Lord God:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 10-11)
Immediately, then, Balaam becomes complicit in the sins of Balak. He should have said, "No. I'm taking my shingle down. I will not curse Israel." But instead he says, "Why don't you stay the night? I'll see if God gives me guidance in this matter."
It is probable that he did not expect God to say a word to him. His words were merely a ploy to get the princes interested and drag the negotiation out. He was putting on his diviner's hat and doing a little acting here. "Oh, I can't make this decision on my own! I must consult the gods. Stay here overnight, and in the morning I will tell you if God has come to me in a dream or a vision to tell me what I can do!"
He was playing the charlatan with them because most of the time, a demon did not come to him and say, "Okay, go ahead and do this," or "Don't do that." Balaam probably manufactured most of his "visitations." However, if a demon did communicate with him and was behind his sorcery, it makes Balaam even more evil. At the very least, he was giving the princes his pitch.
God surprises him by actually answering him! He starts off by asking him, "Who are these men with you?" making the man explain himself, which Balaam does. Then, incredibly, Balaam makes his pitch to God! "God, let me curse them!" God responds emphatically, "No! No! No! You shall not go with them. You shall not curse them. I have blessed them."
In the morning, Balaam tells Balak's princes, "Go back to your land. The Lord refused to give me permission."
We can give Balaam credit for this: He actually does what God told him and sent them away with their diviner's fee in their hands. He made no money. However, we can read into this that he did it, not because of the fear of God, but because of the thought that, "Hey, maybe this will help the negotiations if I send them away, because they might come back, and bring a bigger bag of gold with them to try and convince me. If I play hard to get, and they really want me, I could make a killing."
We need to remember that all the authors who mention Balaam after this write about him being greedy for profit at Israel's expense. We must include this fact in our understanding of what was happening here. God obviously inspired it to be written several times in His Word that this was how Balaam worked. He was avariciously negotiating a higher fee.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
If God repeats the same thing over and over again, it must be important. This is something God never got through Balaam's thick skull because throughout the entire account, he tries his best to curse Israel, to do more than God instructs, or to speak beyond what God put into his mouth. He keeps having to be restrained.
Why? Balaam wants the pot of gold and the honor! These are what are driving him.
God speaks to him time and again. He appears to him, visibly, as the Angel of the Lord. He speaks to him through a donkey! God changes Balaam's words in his mouth, causing him to speak blessings instead of curses. God puts His Spirit on him, and Balaam prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit of God—and still Balaam tries to do his own will, not God's.
Balaam never really understood the connection between obedience and blessing, or, obedience and the relationship with God. Even the most easily understood command—"I will put a word in your mouth. Say that word, no more, and no less"—he fails to follow, though it is something a child could do. However, Balaam is being driven by gold, by pride, and who knows what else, so he constantly, consistently refuses to do what God tells him to do.
Balaam wanted to do all these things—to have a relationship with God, to be able to bless and curse, to be a real prophet—but he never wanted to obey. He wanted all the benefits and none of the responsibilities.
Balaam is an illustration of a person who has access to the truth—like a person who reads the Bible all the time—but never obeys it! Such a person is willing to cheat on his income tax, when he knows the eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." There are "Christian" people who are willing to kill their unborn children, yet know that the sixth commandment says, "You shall not murder." There are "Christians" who lie all the time, knowing all the while that the ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness." These people have access to the truth or have knowledge of the truth, but are never willing to put it into practice because they insist on doing what they want to do.
There are millions of people in the world like this. In fact, one branch of Christianity in particular—called Protestantism—was founded on this formula. One will not find more learned people than Protestant theologians; they know the Bible from cover to cover. Yet, they still keep and preach Sunday! They do more than this. They know—they admit—that God's law is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), but they tell their congregations, "It is done away! We don't have the responsibility of keeping the law. Jesus kept it for us!"
Thus, they emphasize grace and make God's law of no effect because they want all the blessings of being a Christian but none of the responsibility. Just as Balaam did!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
1 Kings 11:4-6
Notice that this occurred when he was old and his heart had almost stopped following the Lord. He did go after the Lord, but he did it in a haphazard way. Solomon is perhaps the most vivid example of a Laodicean in the entirety of the Bible (Revelation 3:14-22).
His downfall began with laxity toward being careful about keeping God's commands regarding idolatry. Laxity is the first stage of lawlessness. The more lax he became, the more double-minded he became. A double minded person loses his grip. It is like trying to grasp two different objects in one's hands. If one is not really sure which he wants to hang onto, and his mind is playing back and forth between them, his grip will loosen on one or the other, because he will want to let go of the one in order to secure the other, if he feels he has a better chance with the other.
In Solomon's case, it is his mental, spiritual grip that is suspect. He gradually came to the place where he was not really hanging onto anything but straddling between choices. This made him become increasingly unstable, unsettled, and even deceitful until he became completely reintegrated into the world. He began to be moved almost entirely by human nature once again.
Why is the first commandment listed first? It is the most important of all the commandments. God wants to draw special attention to it because it is the one that is also most easily broken.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Deception, Idolatry and the Feast of Tabernacles
1 Kings 18:19-21
Elijah is quite instructive here. He began to prophesy in a time of immediate crisis, one that would become far worse before it ever improved. There was tremendous evil to overcome. His ministry took place about 150 years before Israel was to fall, becoming the Lost Ten Tribes, so God was beginning to make a powerful witness to them. Elijah's work was to reveal the true God to Israel in a time of growing national crisis. Elijah prepared the way for Elisha, who had a double portion of Elijah's spirit and did many more miracles. In this regard, Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, and Elisha, a type of Christ. God's pattern is being established. He sends someone long before the real crisis reaches its peak, while it is building.
Elijah says disturbing things. This is a prophet's job, a hallmark of a prophet of God. People like to feel comfortable. The only trouble is that people like to feel comfortable in moral mediocrity. They become "settled on their lees," as it says in Zephaniah 1:12. The prophet comes along and troubles people by awakening them to their sins, making them feel guilty about their relationships with God and each other. He awakens them to their spiritual and moral responsibilities. These Israelites were lethargic in terms of true, spiritual matters.
When a person is freezing to death, he feels a pleasant numbness that he does not want to end. He just goes to sleep as he is freezing to death. But when heat is applied, and the blood begins rushing into the affected areas, pain immediately occurs. Though it hurts, the pain is indicative of rescue and cure. God sends a prophet to people who are cold in their relationship with God—spiritually freezing to death—though they want to stay that way. The prophet turns the heat on, and they become angry with him when he is actually working to make them better. He is often accused of causing their pain.
A prophet's life is not a happy situation. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jeremiah, who moaned and complained to God, "This is more difficult than You ever told me it would be. You tricked me." He did not like the position God put him in. He wanted people to like him, which is understandable. Nevertheless, he was still faithful, and he did his job. Yet, he was in trouble his whole life, from his teenage years on.
There are several ideas as to exactly what Elijah meant by "How long will you falter between two opinions?" One idea is that he means, "How long are you going to hop from branch to branch?"—like a bird in a tree. The bird cannot make up its mind where it wants to settle down, so it just keeps hopping around. Another idea is that it pictures a person shifting his weight from one foot to the other, indicating a degree of lameness. A third is that he is describing somebody teetering on a tightrope and trying to maintain his balance. Whatever the case, there is no doubt about Elijah's intent: "How long will you keep shifting from one opinion to the other?" Their spiritual lethargy for the true God made them uncommitted. Their commitment went one way, and then it went the other way.
Once Elijah began preaching, their conscience pricked them, and it encouraged them to worship the true God. But their carnality and their fear of men persuaded them to worship Baal, because they wanted to be friends with their fellow Israelites. They were straddling the fence in a precarious state of imbalance, attempting to combine the worship of God with the more popular worship of Baal and Asherah. This is typical Israeliltish syncretism, but it will not work.
At one point in A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton, he deals with soldiers who left the service of their army—either the Confederate army or the Union army. These soldiers would surrender themselves to the other side to be given a bit of favor and put into prison. In exchange, they would offer information about their unit. For a while, both sides—the Confederate and the Union—accepted those turncoats and took their information. However, before the war was over, both sides were summarily executing anybody who did this because those traitors could not be trusted. Most of the information they gave turned out to be wrong, to be lies. Most of them were just saving themselves and making themselves comfortable in their situation. They were not committed to the side that they were supposed to be on. Elijah was dealing with the same thing here, albeit spiritually.
When Elijah preached his message, it put the people in a bind because they knew their conscience was telling them that they had to commit themselves to God or to Baal. It disturbed them. Only the individual could decide which side he would be on, because Elijah made it clear, "God does not want you the way you are. Either you are going to be committed to Him or not. If you will not be committed to Him, you are going to die."
Baal, of course, could not talk to them, but if he could, he would probably have said basically the same thing, so the people were in a very uncomfortable situation. The lesson for us becomes clear, because Jesus says the same thing (Matthew 6:24; 12:25). The Sovereign Creator is not a God who allows His favor to be bought with crumbs. He is a loving Master who only is to be obeyed and served—and only on His terms.
Elijah was sent by God, and he was fulfilling the responsibility of a prophet, to prod the people to whom he was sent to their responsibilities. He was to be an aid in getting them from their state of being merely "churched" to that of being truly religious and servants of the Most High God.
Some become discouraged with the church because we are always being told—to some measure anyway—disturbing things about ourselves. But church is where we come to have our minds stretched and measured against Christ's standard. For one to keep on coming to services and leaving, like a theatergoer, without his options, opinions, or decisions resolved but deferred, is an erosion of character. "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
The sum of what Elijah said is actually spiritually dangerous, due to the fact that God is judging. Christ's purpose is to cure, not merely to comfort, so pain will be often involved when dealing with a prophet.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)
1 Kings 18:21
The term "halt you" in the King James' Version ("falter," NKJV) provides a literal picture of what Elijah means. It suggests a person staggering, unable to catch his balance, and failing to accomplish anything of any consequence because his mind is divided. The person in such a circumstance cannot get a grip on life. These people were wavering back and forth, which was typical of the Israelites. The Bible shows in many places that the people continued to worship God, yet also served their idols. In Exodus 32, the incident of the Golden Calf, the people had Aaron mold a calf of gold and proclaim a feast to the Lord!
Essentially, they tried to syncretize the true God and pagan idols, which suggests a divided mind. "No man can serve two masters; for . . . he will hate the one and love the other" (Matthew 6:24). But the one that he hates is still a part of his mind, and it will cause problems.
In Elijah's word-picture, he is indicating that though nothing is wrong with the rest of the body, because the mind has no focus, the body's efforts have no direction. This sets up a situation where, at best, there will be little movement—that is, little accomplished—and at worst, there will be no forward movement at all, but just staggering, first this way then that. That sort of situation produces nothing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Clearly, there is something radically wrong with man. The Bible discloses the seat of man's problem as being his heart, his inner being, including his reason. We are full of falsehood, duplicity, and contradiction. We conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.
Perhaps it is in this area that the heart performs its most destructive work; it conceals the exceeding sinfulness of sin and its tragic consequences and seriousness. It deceives us into thinking that it is not so bad or that God is so merciful that He will overlook it. Was it this kind of thinking that preceded the sudden deaths of Aaron's sons, Uzza, and Ananias and Sapphira?
Do you suppose He can overlook an attitude that so casually takes for granted sinful acts that caused the horribly painful and ignominious death of One who was truly innocent, His Son? Does He merely ignore an attitude that cares so little for its own life that it deliberately attempts to bring that wonderful gift of life to an end? Does He just avert His eyes when we do something that forms a part of our character that will prevent us from being in His image? Some people seem to think so, but is there innocence in this kind of reasoning?
Our own heart deceives us into taking sin lightly. But, believe the Bible, God is NOT taking sin lightly because He loves His creation. Sin has caused all the emotional and physical pain and death that mankind has experienced since Adam. Each of us is suffering to some degree from it right at this moment. Does this bring us happiness? Do we love sin so much that we want it to continue? Are we fully aware it may destroy us? Do we want our sinful way of life to end?
There is only one way it will end, and that is to follow Jesus' advice: "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). When we repent and begin controlling ourselves so that we do not sin, it will not stop sin in the world. But unless WE stop sinning, sin will never be stopped. EACH PERSON has to come to see that he is personally responsible for stopping sin in his own life. He cannot wait for others to stop before he stops. The government will not do it for him. Nobody but the individual can stop his sinning unless God takes away the person's chance to repent by putting him to death.
We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into taking this casually as the world does. They say, "Everybody's doing it." Millions cheat on their spouses. Who knows how many have literally "gotten away with murder"! Many cheat the government of their income taxes and never get caught. But we cannot cheat God. How could we escape the gaze of a Being so acutely aware of what is happening that He sees even a sparrow falling? David writes, "Where can I go from Your Spirit?" (Psalm 139:7). God not only sees the acts, but discerns what is "going on" in the heart (verses 1-4, 23-24).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The heart is central to this because in the Bible the heart stands for the seat, source, reservoir, and instigator of our thoughts, attitudes, desires, character, and motivation. It is synonymous with our modern use of "mind," since the mind is where we hold knowledge, attitudes, motivations, affections, desires, likes, and dislikes.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Obviously, the quality of the heart is the issue in this beatitude. Proverbs 4:23 reads, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." Our Father directly addresses the book of Proverbs to His sons (Proverbs 1:7). It assumes our hearts have been purified by His initial cleansing, that we have received His Spirit, and are in the process of sanctification and going on to perfection. Ezekiel explains this process:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
This does not all take place in an instant. It is a process, and as we have all discovered from Scripture and our own experience since baptism, human nature is still very much alive within us (Romans 7:13-25). Paul confirms this in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you cannot do the things that you wish."
Human nature, the law of sin within us, is always seeking to pull us again into the defilement of sin, seeking to destroy our hope of sharing life with the holy God. That is why God counsels us in Proverbs 4:23 to keep—that is, guard, preserve, and maintain—our heart. It is very easy to become defiled by lapsing back to old habits. In stark reality, Romans 8:7 and Jeremiah 17:9 show why: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The normal human mind deceitfully convinces each person that they are good and love God, men, and law. But the reality is just the opposite: It is at war with God and men, and hates God's holy, righteous, and spiritual law. It loves itself and its desires far more than anything else. It is this deceitful, self-centered enmity that exerts constant influence, pulling us into the defilement of sin.
Jesus preaches on this in Matthew 15:16-20:
So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
It is sin that defiles holiness. In terms of character, of being in the image of God, sin defiles, pollutes, contaminates, or blurs the reflection of God in us. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
Purity of heart is a work in progress in which both God and man share responsibility. Many scriptures show that God will cleanse by pardoning sin. But our responsibility in cleansing is very important and frequently mentioned along with what we must do to be cleansed. Notice how clearly James shows purifying is our responsibility: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8).
How is this purifying done? I Peter 1:22 makes a summary statement: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart." Obedience to the truth through the Spirit purifies our character by inculcating right habits within it.
After commanding us to clean ourselves up, Isaiah adds, "Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:16-17). Likewise, after admonishing us to guard our heart, our Father says:
Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:24-27)
Jeremiah 4:14 adds, "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?"
Psalm 24:3-4 asks a searching question and gives a clear and important answer to all of us: "Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully." These two brief verses broadly cover conduct, motivation, attitude, and prioritizing one's life.
To meet these qualifications requires "truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6). A deceitful heart will never meet the standards because it does not operate from a foundation of godly integrity. David says in verse 5 that, humanly, he was shaped in iniquity. God, with our cooperation through faith, is ultimately the Creator of a pure heart in us, but it is a protracted process achieved by imparting a holy nature by His Spirit. This unites us with a holy Christ, with whom we fellowship, washing us in the blood of the Lamb so that with His aid we can mortify the flesh and live toward God, giving Him first priority in everything.
We will never be pure as God is pure in this life. Our purity is at best only in part. We are partly purified from our former darkness; our will is partly purified from its rebellion; our desires are partly purified from desires, avarice and pride. But the work of cleansing has begun, and God is faithful to finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6).
Interestingly, when Peter refers to God's calling of Gentiles in Acts 15:9, he says God "made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." He uses "purifying" in the sense of a continuous experience. In Titus 3:5, Paul also uses "renewing of the Holy Spirit" in the same ongoing sense. We must see purity of heart in this sense because as James 3:2, 8 states, "For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. . . . But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." By daily denying the self, sincerely confessing and wholehearted obedience, we work toward purity.
However, it is not enough to be pure in words and outward conduct. Purity of desires, motives, and intents should characterize the child of God. We need to examine ourselves, searching diligently whether we have freed ourselves from the dominion of hypocrisy. Are our affections set on things above? Has the fear of the Lord grown strong enough that we love what He loves and hate what He hates? Are we conscious of and do we deeply grieve over the filth we yet find within ourselves? Are we conscious of our foul thoughts, vile imaginations, evil desires? Do we mourn over our pride? Perhaps the heaviest burden of a pure heart is seeing the ocean of unclean things still in him, casting its filth into his life and fouling what he does.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
2 Timothy 4:3
"Heap up to themselves teachers" is another interesting illustration. We might phrase it as, "They've got a whole smorgasbord of preachers to choose from." We would not say that they heap them up - that brings to mind a picture of bodies piled up, one upon another. We would probably picture what was happening as more like a cafeteria, where a person could pick this preacher's understanding of marriage, then a little further on, select another preacher's understanding of faith, and a bit later, for dessert, choose this minister's wonderful sense of humor.
Is that what we do? Do we dabble a little here, a little there? We fool ourselves sometimes by saying, "I'm just getting a well-rounded approach to the subject because this guy is really strong in this area. I need what he can give me." Are we heaping up for ourselves teachers, so that we can pull one from the bottom of the pile when we need it?
Do we flit from place to place as the mood suits us? Maybe this week we are in the mood for something really sober, so we go to a particular serious-minded group. The next week, perhaps, we want to fellowship, and the people at the sober place are not really entertaining socially - but the people at another place nearby really have a rip-roaring time after service every week! Then the week after that, we hear that "Minister X" is in town, so we go there. Is that the way we are? Yet, that is very much like "they heap up to themselves teachers."
James 1:8 reads, "He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." How true that is! One cannot trust a double-minded person because he is unstable; he flits from here to there. One never knows what corner he will be in that week. James' brother, Jesus, says in Matthew 6:24:
No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Consider the principle here. God is interested in loyalty. He wants us to be loyal to Him, as well as to those through whom He is speaking. Therefore, it is best, for our own growth, to find one such minister and stick to him. Then we will not be guilty of heaping up to ourselves teachers, for the basic motivation of doing so is self-satisfaction. And how often does that get us into trouble?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
These verses are similar to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." The person who is neglecting his salvation is not deliberately setting his mind to turn away from God or His way of life. He is simply, through neglect, allowing himself to drift in that direction. He does not plan to go that way; he gets distracted by things in his life—by hobbies, work, rearing children, and a great many other things. No matter what it is, he allows himself to neglect what has been given to him.
The metaphor used here is of a boat that has slipped its mooring and is drifting within the harbor. Just drifting with the current.
Both of these verses point to a major problem we see in the end-time church of God. We may call it Laodiceanism, and that is a very nice "tag" to put on it. We can comfortably say the word, but are we aware that a Laodicean is a drifter? A Laodicean is somebody who is hanging on to the best of both possible worlds, as he sees it. He has one foot in the church and one foot in the world, and he does not realize that he is drifting.
This is the kind of person that God says He finds unpalatable—one He will spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
Our Creator promises us wisdom—but only under the condition that we do not waver or be double-minded. I have sweat plenty over these verses through the years, having had to battle indecision. Likewise, when I pray, I have problems concentrating. I have battled doubts and fears when I have asked to be anointed.
But is simple mind-wandering or normal doubts the subject of James' reprimand? Or is it something else? Perhaps mind-wandering, indecisiveness, and doubting are more symptomatic than the actual causes of double-mindedness.
The apostle Paul writes that anyone who comes to God must believe that He is and diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). If we are in a conference with a human being, it is rude to tune him out, fall asleep on him, or become distracted. Some of my students have done that to me—giving me an insight on how God must feel when our minds wander when we pray, study, or meditate. Inattention and mind-wandering, although they are related to double-mindedness, do not seem to be what James had in mind.
The anguished father in Mark 9:24, who says, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" might be accused of being double-minded, but he is not. He desperately wants to believe, and he asks for help. He is not of two opinions.
The Greek word translated "double-minded" in James 1:8, dipsuchos,in its literal sense means "double-souled," like having two independent wills. The words "with no doubting" in verse 6 are translated from the Greek words meedén diakrinómenos,which describes one divided in mind, who wavers between two opinions.
Some may wonder whether the apostle Paul, when he complains, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19), was exercising double-mindedness. This state of struggle that goes on in all of us is not the same as double-mindedness. Paul's mind, he goes on to explain, is focused one way, in one direction (verse 22), but inherent in the flesh of every human being is an innate enmity toward God and His law (Romans 7:23; 8:7). Just like Paul, we also fail to keep God's law perfectly because we have human nature in us that is perpetually at war with God's Holy Spirit in us.
All of us have a deep-seated desire to be at one with ourselves. We will not realize this desire until we are totally composed of spirit. Until then, we can expect a spiritual tug of war to go on perpetually. As more of God's Spirit flows through us, renewing our minds and displacing our carnality, we will find it easier to keep our carnal nature in check. All of us, I trust, can point to certain areas in our lives that are now under control—but which at one time were not under control. The spiritual struggle occurring in all of us between our spiritual and carnal natures is not double-mindedness.
Double-mindedness is literally having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. Double-mindedness occurs in a church member when he has an implicit or explicit knowledge of God's law, yet deliberately harbors a sin, choosing to conceal it, repress it, or ignore it.
James supports this explanation of double-mindedness in James 4:8: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded." Anything one willingly does or does not do that is contrary to God's law (verse 17) makes one guilty of double-mindedness. Double-mindedness depends on a knowledge of and a willful intent to reject God's law, as the psalmist writes in Psalm 119:113: "I hate the double-minded, but I love your law." On the other side, being synchronized with God's law is equated with singleness of purpose and leads to peace of mind and a feeling of wholeness. The same psalmist writes, "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble" (Psalm 119:165).
God's law itself is the vehicle of wisdom that the petitioner requests in James 1:5. It would be absurd for someone to ask to be filled with the spirit of the law and simultaneously be determined not to keep it. Sometimes we inadvertently do this when we ask a minister or counselor for advice on a problem—but have already purposed in our minds to do it our own way. Then when the minister tells us something that goes against what we have purposed to do in our inner being, a highly uncomfortable state of dissonance emerges.
Harboring any secret sin puts a tremendous strain on the nervous system. Psychologists have a name for this emotional/psychological turmoil: cognitive dissonance, literally "inharmonious thought."
People who have left the truth often report that they feel more at peace with themselves now than at any time they were in the church. This should not surprise us. When someone tries to submit to God's law with a carnal mind, unbearable cognitive dissonance occurs. The nervous system plunges into a tailspin until it achieves a sense of equilibrium or wholeness. Carnal nature does not feel comfortable in the light of God's law: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). The easiest way to find equilibrium is to reject the beliefs that send them into a spiritual dither.
David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents
We do not need to have the fears we sometimes associate with James 1:6-8. We can take comfort in the knowledge that mind-wandering and normal doubts and fears, while they are undesirable and should be rooted out, are not really what James has in mind. He is warning against double-mindedness. Double-mindedness requires knowing God's law and making a premeditated effort to subvert it and then justify the behavior.
Double-mindedness did not apparently apply to Uzzah, who broke God's law in ignorance or foolishness (II Samuel 6:6-7). However, it does apply to Saul, whom God ordered to destroy the Amalekites totally, but only accomplished 80% of his objectives (I Samuel 15). When confronted with his compromise, Saul makes a whole series of excuses. Excuses and alibis are the defense mechanisms used by double-minded people. If we put sin out of our lives as soon as we find it, or as soon as it is pointed out to us, we do not have to worry about making and remembering excuses or alibis.
Double-mindedness occurs when we harbor a sin and still appear to live God's way. Tares, during their formative (immature) period, look just like wheat, yet mature wheat and tares do not look the same (Matthew 13:30). Over time, the tare is exposed because it does not mature like the wheat. So a double-minded "Christian" will become obvious by his lack of fruit and worldly, hypocritical attitude and behavior. Interestingly, God leaves the tares among the wheat ultimately to benefit the wheat.
A double-minded person cannot have God's Holy Spirit within him (Romans 8:5, 8-9; Galatians 5:16-17). Jesus says we cannot serve two masters because our allegiance will really be to one or the other (Matthew 6:24). One cannot be a double agent with the world and a member of God's church (II Corinthians 6:17-18; I John 2:15-17).
God demands that we choose one way or the other—but not straddle the fence. We cannot have it both ways. Unless in the battle between the spirit and the flesh we throw down the gauntlet in favor of our spiritual selves, we run the risk of being torn to pieces psychologically and emotionally.
Recall Psalm 119:113: "I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law." Notice that the antidote to double-mindedness is yielding to God's law. Wholeness and singleness of purpose are the result of keeping God's law through the power of Christ working in us. As our Lord reminds us in His Sermon on the Mount, "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good [single, KJV; focused, directed], your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22).
David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents
The mystery of lawlessness was already working (II Thessalonians 2:7). The false church appropriated the true church's central figure—its savior, Jesus Christ—but rejected the law of God and turned His grace into license (Jude 4; see Titus 1:16). By rejecting the law of God and inserting pagan beliefs, they really also rejected the central figure, Christ, as well, which is very interesting to consider. A dichotomy is produced. They accept the name of Christ, the central figure, the great hero, then turn right around and reject His law. It is double-mindedness, and yet people fall for it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 4)
Jude continues the nautical theme begun in verse 12 by calling the false ministers "raging waves of the sea." He describes them as storms in the church, causing trouble and turbulence wherever they go. James describes the doubting person in a similar way (James 1:6-8), as wind-tossed waves, double-minded, and unstable in everything. Such people will end up causing problems. Such waves toss people into hidden rocks, or as his brother Jude puts it, hidden reefs. Naive members can become caught in the turbulence and eventually be turned from the truth.
He then describes them as "foaming up their own shame." It is quite a picturesque phrase. He alludes to the foam on the beach after a storm. The strand is littered with all kinds of driftwood and other debris a storm can dredge up. They brag about their past feats as great accomplishments, but a godly eye sees them for what they are: shameful deeds.
He also calls them "wandering stars," another nautical allusion, this time to the movement of the planets. Mariners used the fixed stars - not the planets - to guide their ships over the trackless sea. They would align themselves toward a certain star to reach their destination. These teachers are supposed to be leaders, guides for those who are not as experienced on the road of life, but as we would say, they are all over the map! They go here and there, this way and that. It is the blind leading the blind, and anyone following them will fall into a ditch (Matthew 15:14). They are unreliable guides. They give horrible advice. They are not worth even talking to about one's problems because they will lead a person astray.
Jude foretells their fate at the end of the verse: "for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." The literal translation of this is really dark: "Their fate is the utter darkness of darkness for eternity." Lights out forever! James 3:1 says that those who are teachers will receive the stricter judgment, and this is an example of it: the utter darkness of darkness forever. God takes the deception of His people personally.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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