Very Spiritual Devils

Read: John 12

“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8, NLT)

To call someone a “Judas” is to label them a betrayer of the worst kind. It is an accusation that is reserved only for the worst kind of relational offense, since to call another Judas usually implies an irreparable breach in the relationship. After all, who wants to have anything to do with a backstabbing betrayer?

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, is an act that will forever live in infamy. But what Judas did to Jesus didn’t make him evil, it only revealed the evil that had, like cancer, been eating away at his character for a long time. The fact is, in Jesus’ own words, “one of you [disciples] is a devil!” (John 6:70). That is, Judas was a devil of the worst kind: a church-going one. As Joseph Hall has said, “No devil is so dangerous as the religious devil.”

As you might imagine of someone who would betray the Lord, this notorious disciple exhibited some other character flaws that mostly go unnoticed in light of his more famous sin. In this account here in John 12, we are told that Judas protested Mary’s act of anointing Jesus with expensive perfume because it could have fetched a handsome price at the market, and money from the sale could have been used to help the poor. Of course, Judas had a hidden motive. Since he was treasurer for this small band of disciples, he apparently dipped his hand in the till from time to time to fund his own needs. Judas was not only a betrayer, but according to John he was also a thief.

Yet as the Gospels are prone to do, there is another side to Judas that is uncomfortably close to so many people who sit beside you every Sunday in the pews of your church. They are the ones who, like clockwork, criticize everything from the room temperature to the sound level to the length and content of the sermon to the unfriendliness of the people to the call for financial commitment, ad nauseam. No matter what, they are never satisfied; there is always a better alternative—and although they are quick to protest, their solutions are never quite clear or doable. In truth, rather than wanting change, they simply want to gripe. They may smile and sing and put a coin or two in the offering plate, yet they are unwitting tools of Satan. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth was speaking of them when he said, “The devil may also make use of morality.” They are very spiritual devils!

It wasn’t only Judas that Jesus had in mind when he uttered this gentle but pointed rebuke, “for the poor you have always”, he was speaking to the legion of church folk who believe their gift to the church is the ministry of criticism. In truth, their chronic criticism betrays a deeper agenda and uglier issues of character.

Don’t get me wrong—constructive criticism is not a bad thing, if offered in the right spirit, and conflict that is resolved Biblically and in a Christ-like spirit can actually strengthen the church. It is chronic criticizers that I am talking about. In truth, they suffer from the Judas Syndrome: not betrayal, not thievery, but destructive criticism is their sin.

So here’s the deal: If you have to be around someone who suffers this sort of Judas Syndrome, lovingly confront them, as Jesus did. If they don’t see their sin and change their ways, establish some boundaries with them. Don’t let them poison you and cripple your church.

And most of all, don’t be one! Just remember, no one has ever built a statue to a betrayer, a thief, or a critic.

“The devil loves ‘curing’ a small fault by giving you a great one.” ~C.S. Lewis

What If God Took Over?

Are you guilty of covering your own character flaws and deflecting Holy Spirit conviction meant for you with destructive criticism of others? If so, you may be guilty of the Judas Syndrome.  Ask the Lord to show you where you need personal reformation. Then ask him to give you the courage to deal with issues that are keeping you from greater obedience and usefulness to him.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Very Spiritual Devils

  1. So is that the 11th commandment? Thou shalt not criticize.
    Then what does, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” mean?
    If criticism was indeed the subject of Judas’ sin, we would find Peter guiltier. Philip was even guilty of sarcasm in the feeding of the 5,000.
    Did not Judas’ betrayal stem from two character flaws: a lack of belief and a state of being offended.
    “Does this offend you?” he would ask them. He asked several times for good reason. When people are offended, they do evil things. Judas was angry because Jesus had again repudiated his position on the woman’s wasteful use of the costly perfume. He must have thought her to be attempting to procure some kind of favorable position. That was something he would do. In today’s culture we have names for people who do this. But Jesus’ answer was much as his answer to Peter’s refusal to allow him to wash his feet. You do not understand now, but afterwards you shall understand. And there was indeed a purpose for this. She was aforetime anointing his body for burial.
    “Does this offend you?” he’d ask them. In the parable of the sower and the seed, we find it to be those who are offended who cause great harm to the brethren, and not the critical, unless they become offended.

    The prophets of old were called critics! They were ostracized and killed for their apostasy. Yet it was their word which was true. They were killed because their word offended.
    Be careful how you listen.
    Whosoever says, You fool! as you well know, endangers himself.
    Let us not fall into their example, lest we forsake God’s good plan for our lives to follow the path much traversed by those eternally condemned. Shall we escape that judgment? God knows.

    Stalin killed millions to silence critics. His goals were lofty, to benefit the whole nation. In his view, those who opposed him, opposed the welfare of the people.

    Critic may be found to be wise men or prophets in the end.

    It is the talebearer, the gossips, who tear down. Silence slanderers instead.

    • As I said, "Don’t get me wrong—constructive criticism is not a bad thing, if offered in the right spirit, and conflict that is resolved Biblically and in a Christ-like spirit can actually strengthen the church. It is chronic criticizers that I am talking about."

      To offer criticism in the right spirit with the right motive at the right time can be a gift. It is the one who criticizes simply to criticize who destroys unity in the body of Christ, frustrates the common good, and saps blessed energy from the spiritual mission of a local fellowship. Their "contribution" is not a gift!

      • I do understand the evils of chronic criticism. In whatever setting it is found, it can be the farthest thing from edifying. It is more an annoyance than a sin, though. This is particularly so if one’s personal efforts are frustrated because of them. It was actually the use of the term “very spiritual devils” that piqued my interest. The subject interested me, as I supposed it to be one Jesus greatly warned us of: the doctrine of the Pharisees. This was the spirit that powered and drove “The Inquisition,” and it is still alive and well today. All that they need is a cause to motivate them, and the freedom to act and to judge as they would. That is not too difficult, as they are very opinionated and very easily offended. This occurs when someone tells them anything different than they think, because they believe those things that they themselves think are immutable truths.Or, perhaps, you were identifying the “swine” Jesus warned us of. They are earthy creatures, and they wallow in its filth. Our pearls, which are our words of wisdom, are spiritual. The swine, filled with the earth, cannot accept these pearls, because the two are at enmity with one another. They think them to be the very essence of foolishness, so they do what they can to negate them. They do not even understand why they are so offended, why they are so angry, or even why they hate those who spoke these things so much. It is because the spirit of this world, which is the spirit of err, is in them, they cannot hear any truth that is not already proven. That is why the world was flat until it was proven otherwise.Judas Iscariot was one of them. He was a very spiritual devil. He was earthy, because he was very wise in the ways of this world. He was perfect to handle day to day matters, like the handling of money. Is there anything more earthy than finances? He was perfect for the job, but Jesus wasn’t the perfect boss for him. The way his boss did things were inexplicable. They made no sense. Yet like all the other spiritual devils, he was quite content being in the proverbial pews. He had a sense of purpose and he felt a sense of worth there. In his mind, he was so much smarter than the rest of the disciples. They deferred to his opinions concerning these things. It was only his boss, Jesus, whom he had a problem with. He just wouldn’t listen. He was so contrary. If Jesus had not chosen him as an apostle, he too would have left him.Judas, like many of our spiritual devils, would have, except for lacking the necessary pedigree, been a Pharisee.So, again, it is the legalists, the Pharisees, who are the very spiritual devils. Their doctrine is the rule of law. They know not that this is earthy, while truth, grace, and agape love are all spiritual. They think themselves wise. They think the churches need rule of law more than anything else, because the conforming to it would bring about the world they desire. They do not understand that it was only given as a schoolmaster to lead us as children to a more perfect law, a spiritual law.As an example; Jesus kept the spiritual law in healing on the Sabbath but broke the letter of the law. The actual law says: “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” That means to keep it clean and undefiled. Solomon said: Where no oxen are the crib is clean. He is right, if we were to do absolutely nothing, then we should not sin. That was how they understood the keeping of the Sabbath. You must do nothing. But if you were to do something, then it must be something good and unselfish, for a man’s work is to satisfy his belly, which are his lusts. To do well and not satisfy your own desires on the Sabbath was the spiritual intent of the law, and that was how Jesus kept it every day. God, knowing people had to satisfy their own wants and needs, gave them only one day to keep separate for this purpose, though he knew they could not succeed in doing it. But to do well all your days is to live an all together sanctified life, which can only be done if we trust God to feed, clothe, and house us.Consider the lilies of the field, or the birds of the air.O that we were that perfect; O, we, of little faith.