The Bitterness of Being a People-pleaser

June 8, 2022

By Qu Cong, Greece

Last year, Brother Xin, who I was on the road preaching the gospel with, was dismissed. When I asked him about it, he told me that for a few years, he hadn’t been doing a good job on the duty the church gave him, that he did things his own way, which seriously disrupted the church’s work, and that’s why he was dismissed. I felt bad for him, seeing him with so much regret and feeling so awful. In our work together, I had noticed he was careless and did things his own way. I wanted to point it out to him, to help him reflect and learn about himself, but I hesitated when I was about to open my mouth. I figured the leader had dealt with him plenty when dismissing him so he was already pretty miserable. If I said something too, wouldn’t that be rubbing salt in the wound? Would he think I was lacking empathy? Besides, the leader must have mentioned the issues I noticed ages before that, so I decided to just comfort him. I said to him, “I’m sure you’ve gained a lot these years on the road sharing the gospel, that you have a lot of insight. Lots of the brothers and sisters in the church are pretty new without any evangelical experience. You’ll be able to help them when you go back home.” To my surprise, his response was, “Brother, hearing you say this is upsetting for me. I thought you’d say some things to help me so I could self-reflect and know myself better, which would be beneficial to my life. But instead, you’re praising me even though I’ve gotten to this point, so that I’ll feel like my dismissal wasn’t a big deal and I’m more capable than the others. You’re playing Satan’s part, pushing me closer to hell. It reminded me of the Lord Jesus rebuking Peter: ‘Get you behind Me, Satan’ (Mat 16:23). These polite things aren’t edifying for people and you shouldn’t say them anymore. That’s not loving, but it’s harmful and destructive for others.” I felt really ashamed at the time and just wanted to find a hole to crawl into. I knew that Brother Xin hadn’t had much dispositional change after years in the faith and he’d never accomplished much in his duty—it was a dangerous state. But I was just saying nice things. I was being disingenuous, being polite and complimentary in a secular way. Wasn’t that being deceitful? Brother Xin’s dismissal was a good chance for him to reflect and know himself better. If he could seek the truth, self-reflect and truly repent, that failure could be a turning point in his faith. But I was being a stumbling block, saying some insincere drivel to toy with his feelings and misguide him. I was being Satan’s minion. God does His utmost to save people, but Satan tries everything to get people away from God, to drag them down into hell. That nonsense of mine was just harming my brother. I felt this intense fear at the time, so I found some of God’s words to help me think through my issue.

God says, “If you have a good relationship with a brother or a sister, and they ask you to point out what is wrong with them, how should you do it? This relates to what approach you take to the matter. Is your approach based on the principles of the truth, or do you use philosophies for living? What is the issue when you can clearly see that someone has a problem, but don’t tell them outright so as to avoid confrontation, and you even make excuses, saying, ‘My stature is small now and I don’t understand your problems thoroughly. When I do, I’ll tell you’? This involves a philosophy for living. Is this not trying to fool others? You should speak of as much as you can see clearly; and if something is not evident to you, say so. This is saying what’s in your heart. If you have certain thoughts and certain things are evident to you, but you are afraid of offending people, terrified of hurting their feelings, and so choose to say nothing, then this is living by a worldly philosophy. If you discover that someone has a problem or has gone astray, even if you can’t help them with love, at the very least you must point out the problem so that they can reflect on it. If you ignore it, isn’t this doing them harm?” (“Only by Pursuing the Truth Can One Resolve Their Notions and Misunderstandings of God” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). And there’s this passage about cunning people: “They have no love for positive things, they do not yearn for the light, and they do not love the way of God or the truth. They love, venerate, and cherish evil—they cherish negative things. What they venerate, admire, pursue and yearn for in their hearts is not to be someone who is possessed of humanity and the truth, nor someone beloved by God, but to be someone who appears, on the outside, to do good deeds, yet who is also extremely shrewd, and inscrutable. They want to be able to insinuate themselves with perfect ease into any crowd, to ply all manner of tricks, stratagems, and tactics with consummate artistry, and to be greeted with adoration and welcome wherever they go; they want to be an idol to people. That’s the kind of person they want to be. What sort of way is this? This is the way of demons, the path of evil. It is not the way taken by a believer. In order to con people out of their personal trust, to make them worship and follow them, they use Satan’s philosophies, its logic, they use its every ploy, every ruse, in every setting. This is not the path that ought to be walked by people who believe in God; not only will such people not be saved, they will also meet with God’s punishment—of this there cannot be the slightest doubt” (“Belief in Religion Will Never Lead to Salvation” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days).

God’s words entirely exposed my evil motives and corrupt nature. Brother Xin had been slipshod in his duty and then didn’t put his heart into his new duty after being dismissed. He wasn’t persevering in his work and wasn’t principled, but did whatever he pleased. I had already clearly seen these behaviors of his, but I was a people-pleaser, afraid of offending him and never pointed them out. He was dismissed again and opened up to me in fellowship about his failures. I should have talked about his problems and fellowshiped on God’s will to help him self-reflect and repent to God. That would have been actually loving, and beneficial and edifying for him. But I was the nice guy, saying a bunch of misleading garbage. Wasn’t I just trying to fool him into liking me? I wanted him to feel that when he experienced failure, the leader just dealt with and exposed him, but I was warm and comforting toward him. Then he’d be grateful and have a good impression of me. I was using unbelievers’ worldly philosophies, like “Never hit people below the belt,” “Speak kindly in accord with others’ feelings, for frankness just annoys,” “Don’t share everything you see to keep good friends pleased” and so on. They’re all evil, worldly words to live by and entirely satanic philosophies. Unbelievers all interact based on satanic logic, always being ingratiating and hypocritical without saying a single true, genuine word. They all put on an act and feel others out, with trickery in everything they say. But as a long-time believer who’d read so much of God’s word, I still couldn’t say a single thing that was in line with the truth. Instead, I used satanic philosophies just like an unbeliever and was a vessel for Satan, becoming more slippery and deceptive. It was pathetic! It reminded me of God’s words: “If believers are just as casual and unrestrained in their speech and conduct as unbelievers are, then they are even more evil than unbelievers; they are archetypal demons” (“A Warning to Those Who Do Not Practice the Truth” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). “The more you are in the presence of God, the more experiences you will have. If you still live in the world like a beast—your mouth professing belief in God but your heart somewhere else—and if you still study the worldly philosophies for living, then will all your previous labors not have been for nothing?” (“On Experience” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Over years of faith, I hadn’t gained the truth or become a simple, honest person, but clung to secular ways. I saw I was not a person who loves or accepts the truth. I came before God and prayed, “God, I don’t have any human likeness in my words or actions. I’m so evil and cunning! I want to truly repent and stop living by satanic, worldly philosophies.”

Through that experience and lesson, in my interactions with others and my duty after that, I could be vigilant and practice speaking in ways that would benefit people, not just be a slippery people-pleaser. But I was so deeply corrupted by Satan that when something involved my personal interests, I couldn’t help but do it again.

I was working with Brother Chen on video production after that. He had kind of strong opinions and knew a lot more about the work than I did. I felt like I should be modest so he didn’t get the impression that I was an arrogant know-nothing. So in the course of our duties I tried to stick to “Harmoniousness is a treasure; forbearance is brilliance.” Sometimes I’d see some issues and mistakes in the videos he worked on and I’d suggest fixing them, but he didn’t think the things I mentioned were problems. He’d just share some excuses and opinions. Although I didn’t entirely agree with him, I was afraid further discussion would leave us deadlocked or arguing, then everyone would call me stubborn. I’d let go of it when I thought about it that way. But instead of praying and seeking, I worked with him that way for a few months and then our videos came out with issues here and there. Later on I realized those issues were still the ones I’d pointed out in the first place, and we had to redo those videos. Brother Chen ended up dismissed for being arrogant and stubborn. Even though those videos were finished in the end, I didn’t feel settled or at peace in my heart about it. I was uneasy and guilty. I saw that I was always a people-pleaser in my duty to maintain superficial harmony, so I didn’t uphold principles out of fear of offending others. I wasn’t being a true partner and I was hindering the video work of God’s house. I felt absolutely awful. Then the leader came to talk to me and unmasked me, saying, “You haven’t upheld the principles of the truth in work with brothers and sisters. You know clearly that someone’s opinions are wrong, but still blindly follow them to prevent any conflict and to protect their image of you. That’s meant videos have to be redone and it’s held our progress back.” And then she said, “You tend to bend with the wind, and you need to seek the truth and resolve this right away.” It was hard for me to hear. I was praying and reflecting on this over the next few days, and looking for words of God to help me reflect on it.

Almighty God says, “To all appearances, the antichrists’ words seem especially kind, cultured, and distinguished. Anyone who violates principle, who is meddlesome and intrusive in church work, is not exposed or criticized no matter who they are; the antichrist turns a blind eye, letting people think they are magnanimous in all matters. People’s every corruption and odious deed is met with beneficence and toleration. They do not grow angry, or fly into a rage, they will not get cross and blame people when they do something wrong and harm the interests of God’s house. No matter who commits evil and disturbs the work of God’s house, they pay no heed, as if this has nothing to do with them, and they will never offend people because of it. What are they most concerned with? With how many people look up to them, and with how many people see them when they suffer, and admire them for it. The antichrists believe that suffering must never be for nothing; no matter what hardship they endure, what price they pay, what good deeds they do, how caring, considerate, and loving they are toward others, this must all be carried out in front of others, more people must see it. And what is their aim in acting thus? To win people over, to make people feel admiration and approval toward their actions, toward their behavior, toward their character. There are even antichrists that try to establish an image of themselves as someone good through this outwardly good behavior, so that more people come to them looking for help. … Their actions don’t simply inspire veneration in people’s hearts—they also give them a place there. The antichrists wish to take the place of God. This is what they are aiming for when they do these things. Evidently, their actions have already yielded early results: In the hearts of these people who lack discernment, the antichrists now have a place, and there are now people who venerate and admire them, which was precisely the antichrists’ aim” (“They Do Their Duty Only to Distinguish Themselves and Feed Their Own Interests and Ambitions; They Never Consider the Interests of God’s House, and Even Sell Those Interests Out in Exchange for Personal Glory (Part Ten)” in Exposing Antichrists). God shows that antichrists are really evil and despicable, that they act nice and say nice things to disguise themselves and buy others’ hearts so that people think they’re the only understanding ones, so they seek them for comfort. That takes people farther from God, and the antichrists take God’s place in their hearts. I saw I was acting just like that. In our duties, brothers and sisters need to bring things up and help each other, but I was avoiding anything offensive just to protect my own image. I saw some problems in Brother Chen’s video production and didn’t uphold principles of the truth, but just went with the flow, was a nice guy without practicing the truth. I wanted everyone to think I wasn’t too arrogant, that I was tolerant and understanding, and that I was compassionate. I wanted to make all the people I interacted with happy so they’d like me and have a good impression of me. To achieve this vile aim, I didn’t even spare the church’s work in my attempt to maintain a positive image. I was so selfish and evil. From God’s judgment and revelation, I saw that by being a nice guy, I was on an antichrist’s path. I felt so guilty when I realized this. I continued reflecting on myself after that. Thinking back on all my time as a believer, I always put on a nice face with other people. Whenever I saw someone who seemed cultivated and kind, I tried to emulate them. I wanted to seem easygoing and approachable to safeguard my image in brothers’ and sisters’ minds. I hardly ever spoke up when I saw others’ problems or that they revealed corruption, afraid of offending them. I remember that when I was a gospel deacon before, I was always trying hard to be low-key and speak with humility. When I saw others being too casual in their duty and being unprincipled, I was afraid of constraining them if I brought it up, that others would see me poorly, so out of so-called love and a desire to help, I was careful with my words, and was gentle and indirect. I never called anyone out directly or helped them see the severity of what they’d done. I’d just give them an indirect hint. When I had to dismiss someone and share fellowship, I felt that was offensive and didn’t even know what to say. I always wanted others to offer fellowship instead of me, and I’d just go hide. I did my utmost to protect my status and image that way, and the brothers and sisters said I never put on airs and I was easy to get along with. They even recommended me for a leadership position for that reason, thinking I had good humanity and wouldn’t oppress others. I felt so self-satisfied. Antichrists use superficial good behaviors to mislead and entrap people, trying to take God’s place in their hearts. I realized I had the same motives and goals at heart. I’d never reflected on my despicable motives and corrupt nature, and felt like there was nothing wrong with being a nice guy. It was easy to gain others’ approval and support, and to get accolades. It felt like a great way to live. But now I could see that I was establishing myself in the most secretive, most covert way, deceiving others, taking them in, acting as an antichrist to undermine God’s work.

I read a passage of God’s words in my devotionals that really evoked some feelings for me. “Not practicing the truth when something happens to you is a transgression. And if you still do not practice the truth when something happens to you again—if you forsake the truth in order to protect your own interests, vanity and pride—what kind of behavior is this? Is it committing evil? If you do not practice the truth at any point and your transgressions grow ever more numerous, then your end is already determined. It is plain to see that if all your transgressions were totaled up, and added to your choices, the things you pursue, and your subjective will, as well as the directions you took and paths you chose when doing things—if these were all added up, then it is possible to determine your end: You should be cast into hell, which means you will be punished. What do you say, is this something trivial? Added up, all of your transgressions are a compendium of evil deeds, and so you should be punished—which is the ultimate consequence when you believe in God but do not accept the truth” (“The Most Important Part of Believing in God Is Putting the Truth Into Practice” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). I was always being a nice guy and not practicing the truth. In my cooperation with the others it was always at the expense of the church’s work. It was for the evil motive of winning over their hearts. It was entirely evil. If I’d gone on that way, I would have ended up cast out and punished by God. From God’s words, I could feel His righteous disposition and how He’s disgusted by those who don’t practice the truth. I wanted to repent right away, to seek the truth and resolve my people-pleasing disposition.

Almighty God says, “When your relationship with God has become normal, then you will also have normal relationships with people. To build a normal relationship with God, all must be built on the foundation of God’s words, you must be able to perform your duty according to God’s words and what God asks, you must set your views straight, and must seek the truth in all things. You must practice the truth when you understand it, and regardless of what happens to you, you must pray to God and seek with a heart of obedience to God. Practicing thus, you will be able to maintain a normal relationship with God. At the same time as performing your duty properly, you must also ensure that you do nothing that does not benefit the life entry of God’s chosen ones, and say nothing that is unhelpful to the brothers and sisters. At the very least, you must do nothing that goes against your conscience and must absolutely not do anything shameful. That which rebels against or resists God, in particular, you absolutely must not do, and you must not do anything that disturbs the work or life of the church. Be just and honorable in everything you do and ensure that your every action is presentable before God. Although the flesh may sometimes be weak, you must be able to put the interests of God’s family first, without greed for personal profit, without doing anything selfish or despicable, often reflecting on yourself. In this way, you will be able to often live before God, and your relationship with God will become completely normal” (“How Is Your Relationship With God?” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). “For all who fulfill their duty, however profound or shallow their understanding of the truth, the simplest way of practice by which to enter the reality of the truth is to think of the interests of God’s house in everything, and to let go of selfish desires, individual intentions, motives, reputation, and status. Put the interests of God’s house first—this is the least one should do. If a person performing his duty cannot do even this much, then how can he be said to be performing his duty? This is not performing one’s duty. You should first consider the interests of God’s house, consider God’s own interests, and consider His work, and put these considerations first and foremost; only after that can you think about the stability of your status or how others see you. Do you not feel that it gets a little easier when you divide it into these steps and make some compromises? If you do this for a while, you will come to feel that satisfying God is not difficult. In addition, you should be able to fulfill your responsibilities, perform your obligations and duties, set aside your selfish desires, set aside your own intents and motives, have consideration for God’s will, and put the interests of God and His house first. After experiencing this for a while, you will feel that this is a good way to live. It is living straightforwardly and honestly, without being a base person or a good-for-nothing, and living justly and honorably rather than being narrow-minded or mean. You will feel that this is how a person should live and act” (“Give Your True Heart to God, and You Can Obtain the Truth” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). Those who seek the truth and stand on God’s side, who let go of their personal desires and uphold the interests of God’s house are living out a human likeness and can have normal relationships with others. After that, I started practicing considering the interests of God’s house first in any situation, and I’d try to satisfy God’s will in everything. After doing this for a while, I saw I had so many chances to practice the truth in daily life and in my duty. For example, in a gathering, I noticed some people spoke of doctrines or were going off topic, or that someone was rambling, prolonging our gathering time, which harmed our church life, but the team leader didn’t try to correct it. At first I didn’t want to say anything, but I felt kind of guilty and I knew I was being a people-pleaser again. I said a prayer right away. Toward the end of the gathering I brought up the issues I’d noticed and suggested solutions. I felt that forsaking myself and upholding the interests of God’s house really brought me some peace. Also, a brother I knew really well was dismissed, and he told me it was because he’d been seeking comfort and was cunning in his duty, without being effective. At first I wanted to comfort him and get him to think well of me, but then I realized that I had to practice the truth. So, I calmly considered what I should say to satisfy God and help edify this brother. I thought about our prior interactions. His desire for comfort had been pretty obvious in his duty. Not sparing any words, I told him about his issues in his attitude toward his duty and sent him some relevant words of God. Afterward, he thanked me and said all of that had helped him. After doing that, I felt very calm, very much at peace.

The environments God set up and the judgment and revelation of His words showed me that if I lived by Satan’s worldly philosophies, I’d become more cunning and lose the bottom line of being human, then I’d just hurt others and myself. I also learned that living by God’s words and the principles of the truth is the only way to have humanity and be a good person.

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