One of you is a devil!
Can you believe Jesus said that to His followers?
Have you ever wished that you could get away with saying something like that to some of yours?
I want to suggest that there are times when we should express that sentiment. I don’t think we should express it directly to people, and I don’t think we should make it a habit of labeling people that way in our hearts; however, there is a helpful leadership principle that Jesus was presenting when He voiced those shocking words, and it would benefit us to embrace it.
I’m sure you remember the setting. Jesus had just told His followers that He was the Bread from Heaven, and that if they ate His flesh and drank His blood they would receive life. When the majority couldn’t get their heads around the grisly illustration they started bailing out by the droves. As he watched the people abandon Him Jesus turned to the twelve and asked a poignant question: “Will you also go away?”
In response to the question Peter chimed in with the glorious statement: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” And right when it seems like Jesus should have drawn comfort from Peter’s words and commended the Twelve for sticking with Him He made another staggering statement: “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:68-70 NIV)
There are several potential reasons why Jesus would have uttered such a statement. One possibility is that he was sending a not-so-subtle message to Judas, letting him know that Jesus was on to him. Another option is that He was challenging all of His disciples to guard their hearts against Satan’s schemes and agendas. But a third option is that He was teaching a leadership lesson to the future leaders of His church.
Sometimes the people we lead will hurt us…and we need to keep leading them anyway.
Before we evaluate how to practically do that, let’s observe what Jesus did not do after He made that statement. He didn’t expose Judas on the spot. He didn’t insist that the issue be discussed and resolved, and He didn’t change how He ministered to each of His followers—He carried on with His mission.
I think Jesus’ words and actions can encourage us church and ministry leaders to continue leading even though there is a possibility that some of the people we serve could hurt or abandon us. Although it’s natural for us to hope that people won’t leave our ministries or congregations, it is unhealthy when that concern becomes a source of constant worry or anxiety. Since it’s terribly easy to fall in to that trap; however, let me highlight a few observations from Jesus and His Twelve.
Jesus didn’t let the fear of one devil cause Him to withdraw from the Twelve. On the contrary, John 13:1 says: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Jesus didn’t take it personally when His followers kicked against Him. A wise leader recognizes that when people struggle they often take it out on the leader. When Jesus accosted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus He said to him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). Healthy leaders carry enough internal confidence to allow their people to wrestle and process without always taking it as a negative reflection on their own ministry efforts.
Jesus only lost one of the Twelve. Since the pain of a rejection or a betrayal can eclipse much of the joy in our ministry experiences, it is helpful to remember that in the grand scheme of Jesus’ ministry 11/12 of His closest followers remained faithful to Him. That is a 92% success rate! If we objectively evaluate our ministries we will likely discover that our success rates significantly exceed our rejection rates as well.
Let’s maximize our callings, honor our God, and faithfully serve our people—even if one of them turns out to be a devil.