Reflection on Repaying Kindnesses

February 7, 2023

By Li Fan, South Korea

A few months ago, I experienced something similar. I received a letter from my hometown church asking for an evaluation of one of the sisters, Zhang Hua. The letter said she was disrupting church life, pitting people against each other and shoring up her own supporters. The leaders tried fellowshiping several times to no avail, and she fought back by pointing out the leaders’ own faults. The church was preparing information needed to expel Zhang Hua and asked me to write an evaluation of her. When I saw the letter, I realized that Zhang Hua was likely to be expelled this time because she had been persistent in such behavior all along, and still hadn’t changed. This was a very serious condition. When I imagined Zhang Hua’s expulsion, I didn’t feel so good about it. She’d promoted me before, and always tried to look after me. If she knew I was the one who had exposed her evil doings, what would she think of me? Would she say I was ungrateful and heartless? Thinking on it, I just wanted to avoid the matter. I happened to have other work to do, and put it off for a few days.

The issue kept hanging over my head—I remembered something from ten years before. Back then, Zhang Hua was the church leader and had promoted me to text-based work, so that I could get more practice. I was promoted repeatedly, and went to do my duty out of town. I’d thought that being able to continue with text-based work had something to do with her promoting me all those years before. I thought of the fellowship, help and support that she provided during her years as leader—we got along very easily, and she took good care of us in our daily lives. Not only did she arrange better houses to receive us, but if we were short on clothes or daily necessities she would also have them brought to us immediately. I remember one time she held a gathering for us. She’d heard I had liver disease, and contacted a brother who practiced medicine, getting me a dozen bottles of liver meds for free. I was very touched by that. Except for my family, no one had ever shown such concern for my disease. I always felt that she had appreciated and valued me and I was forever grateful for that. So it was almost unbearably awkward to then be asked to write an evaluation of Zhang Hua, for I knew she had a list of evil deeds—if they were exposed, they’d result in her expulsion. In her duty as leader she was derelict and reckless, severely damaging the church’s work. After being dismissed as leader, she went to preach the gospel but began following antichrists, denouncing the leaders as false leaders in her struggle for leadership. As a result, leaders and workers couldn’t do their duty, and church work was severely disrupted. Her sister was an evil person. When she was expelled, Zhang Hua wasn’t pleased and came to her defense, spreading notions, and disrupting the church’s work. I wondered why Zhang Hua always supported the wrong people. Then I thought of God’s word: “Many in the church have no discernment. When something deceptive occurs, they unexpectedly stand on the side of Satan; they even take offense at being called Satan’s lackeys. Though people might say they have no discernment, they always stand on the side without truth, they never stand on the side of the truth at the critical time, they never stand up and argue for the truth. Do they truly lack discernment? Why do they unexpectedly take the side of Satan? Why do they never say one word that is fair and reasonable in support of the truth? Has this situation genuinely arisen as a result of their momentary confusion? The less discernment people have, the less able they are to stand on the side of truth. What does this show? Does it not show that people without discernment love evil? Does it not show that they are the loyal spawn of Satan? Why is it that they are always able to stand on the side of Satan and speak its language? Their every word and deed, the expressions on their faces, are all sufficient to prove that they are not any kind of lovers of the truth; rather, they are people who detest the truth. That they can stand on the side of Satan is enough to prove that Satan really loves these petty devils who spend their lives fighting for Satan’s sake. Are all these facts not abundantly clear?(The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. A Warning to Those Who Do Not Practice the Truth). Through the revelation of God’s word, and comparing it to Zhang Hua’s past evil deeds and her present behavior, I saw she was always taking Satan’s side, disrupting the church’s work. I understood that she was in fact Satan’s lackey—an evildoer disrupting the church’s work. If I were to expose all of Zhang Hua’s evil deeds, then according to the church’s principles, she would certainly be cleared out. Then, she’d have no role to play in the house of God and no chance of salvation. She was already middle-aged, and hadn’t started a family. If she were expelled, would she have anywhere to go? When I thought of the care and promotion she’d given me, I was in a dilemma. Write the evaluation, and she’d likely be expelled for her poor behavior. Don’t write it, and I wouldn’t be protecting the church’s work or being faithful to God. Thinking on it, I came up with a compromise. Years had passed, and my memory wasn’t so great. I’d already forgotten many details, so there was no use putting much effort into recalling them. I’d just jot down a few obvious ones and call it a day. When this thought occurred to me, I felt reproach in my heart. Wasn’t this just treachery and deception? Now is the final stage of revelation in God’s work, when people are sorted according to their kind. Only when evildoers, antichrists, nonbelievers and evil spirits are cleared out will the church be cleansed and able to carry out its work smoothly. I knew very well Zhang Hua was evil, but didn’t want to expose her—I wanted to shelter her, to cover up for her. This would be standing on Satan’s side and resisting God. Realizing this, I became frightened. I tried hard to recall all of her actions and wrote them up for the leader.

After sending it, I felt a little more at ease, but a feeling of sadness still remained. If I returned to my hometown one day and Zhang Hua knew I was the one who revealed her evil deeds, would she tell me that I was without affection, and that I was ungrateful? For days, when I thought about this, I felt like I had done something wrong. I kept pondering: I knew that exposing and reporting evildoers is God’s will and is the duty of all God’s chosen, so why was I so sad, and unwilling to expose her? Why did I feel like I owed her something? Reflecting, I recalled that when God dissected mankind’s morals He touched on the topic of repaying kindnesses, so I began reading God’s word. God’s words say, “The idea that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid,’ is one of the classic criteria for judging whether a person is moral or immoral in Chinese traditional culture. When evaluating if someone has good or bad humanity and how virtuous they are, one of the benchmarks is whether they return the favors or help that they receive—if they are someone who practices that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’ or not. Within Chinese traditional culture, and indeed within human traditional culture as a whole, people treat this as an important measure of virtue. If someone does not practice that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid,’ then they are ungrateful and considered to be devoid of conscience and unworthy of associating with. They are despised, spurned or rejected by all. On the other hand, if someone does practice that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’—if they are grateful and return the favors and help they receive with every means at their disposal, they are deemed a person of conscience and humanity. If somebody receives benefits or help from another person, but does not repay them, or just expresses a little gratitude to them with a simple ‘thank you’ and nothing more, what will the other person think? Will they be bothered, perhaps? Might they think, ‘That guy doesn’t deserve to be helped, he’s not a good person. If that’s how he responds when I’ve helped him so much, then he has no conscience or humanity, and isn’t worth associating with’? If they ran into this kind of person again, would they still help them? They wouldn’t wish to, at least. Wouldn’t you, in similar circumstances, wonder whether you really ought to help or not? The lesson you would have learned from your previous experience would have been, ‘I can’t help just anybody out—they have to understand that “a kindness received should be gratefully repaid.” If they’re the ungrateful type who won’t repay me for the help I’ve given them, then I’m better off not helping.’ Wouldn’t that be your view on the matter? (Yes, it would.)” (The Word, Vol. 6. On the Pursuit of the Truth. What It Is to Pursue the Truth (7)). After reading God’s word, I’d found the reason why I felt so sad, and felt like I owed something to her. I had been deceived and poisoned by the moral principle of repaying kindnesses. Throughout my childhood, when my parents, elders, or the villagers were talking, the phrase “repaying kindnesses” frequently appeared in their conversations. When they heard how someone who had received help later repaid the favor, they’d praise this person and say they were good, with a conscience, and worth befriending. They admired and respected such people, and would greet them happily when they saw them. But when someone hadn’t returned a favor, they didn’t want to associate with them. They privately labeled such people as ungrateful, lacking conscience and humanity, and didn’t greet them at all. Steeped in these kinds of values from my childhood environment, I always tried to practice the idea of repaying kindnesses. I had to remember everyone who’d helped me or had helped my family, and repay them as soon as possible. If it wasn’t possible right then, I had to wait and repay them later, when I could. This seemed like the way a noble, conscionable, upright person should act, and it won me the favor of those around me. But as for Zhang Hua, I felt that I hadn’t repaid all her promotion, concern, and help, and I had even called out her evil deeds. I had a guilty conscience and felt ungrateful. These ideas still had such a grip on me that even though I knew evil people and nonbelievers can only disrupt the church’s work and the brothers’ and sisters’ duties, I was still unwilling to expose her evil deeds. I was greatly deceived and restrained by the concept of repaying kindnesses.

Just then, I read more of God’s word. “Statements on moral conduct like ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’ do not tell people exactly what their responsibilities are as a member of society and a part of mankind. Instead, they are a way of binding or forcing people to act and think in a certain way, regardless of whether they want to or not, and no matter the circumstances or context. There are plenty of examples of this from ancient China. For example, a starving beggar boy got taken in by a family that fed him, clothed him, trained him in martial arts, and taught him all kinds of knowledge. They waited until he had grown up, and then started using him as a source of income, sending him out to do evil, to kill people, to do things that he did not want to do. If you look at his story in light of all the favors he received, then him being saved was a good thing. But if you consider what he was forced to do later, was it really good or bad? (It was bad.) But under the conditioning of traditional culture, like ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid,’ people cannot make this distinction. On the surface, it appears that the boy had no choice but to do evil things and hurt people, to become a killer—things that most people would not wish to do. But didn’t his willingness to do bad things and kill at the behest of his master come, deep down, from a desire to repay him for his kindness? Particularly because of the conditioning of Chinese traditional culture, like ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid,’ people can’t help but be influenced and controlled by these ideas. The way that they act, and the intentions and motivations behind these actions are also constrained by them. When the boy was put in that situation, what would his first thought have been? ‘I was saved by this family, and they have been good to me. I can’t be ungrateful, I must repay their kindness. I owe my life to them, so I must devote it to them. I should do whatever they ask of me, even if that means doing evil and killing people. I cannot consider whether it is right or wrong, I must simply repay their kindness. What kind of a person would I be if I didn’t?’ As a result, whenever the family wanted him to murder someone or do something wrong, he did so without any hesitation or reservations. Weren’t his conduct and actions, his unquestioning obedience, all dictated by the idea that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’? Wasn’t he fulfilling that moral maxim? (Yes.) What do you take from this example? Is ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’ a good thing, or not? (It’s not, there is no principle to it.) Actually, a person who repays a kindness does have a principle. Namely, that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid.’ If someone does you a kindness, you must do one in return. If you fail to do so then you are not human and there is nothing that you can say if you are condemned for it. The saying goes: ‘A drop of water should be repaid with a gushing spring,’ but in this case, the boy received a life-saving kindness, and he had to repay it with a life in return. He did not know what the limits or principles of repaying kindness were. He believed that his life had been given to him by that family, so he had to devote it to them in return, and do whatever they demanded of him, including murder or other acts of evil. This way of repaying kindness has no principles or limits. He abetted a beast and ruined himself in the process. Was it right for him to repay kindness in this way? Of course not. It was foolish(The Word, Vol. 6. On the Pursuit of the Truth. What It Is to Pursue the Truth (7)). Through God’s example of the beggar repaying a kindness, I saw that repaying kindnesses is a satanic fallacy meant to poison us. The idea of repaying kindnesses not only constrains our soul, but also distorts our thoughts, turning ordinary help between people into a debt of gratitude that must be kept in mind and repaid, lest one be labeled as lacking a conscience and humanity. How many people have lost touch with proper conduct because of this deceptive and poisonous moral? No matter who does the favor, even if it’s an evildoer or someone with ulterior motives, whoever receives the benefit must then repay it with all of their being, even to the extent of murder, and other evil. And so I realized that the moral of repaying kindnesses does indeed poison people. When I thought of Zhang Hua attacking the leaders and disrupting the church’s work, I knew the leader’s goal in asking for an evaluation was to clearly understand how Zhang Hua usually behaved so as to judge whether or not to expel her. But under the deception and influence of “repaying kindnesses,” the mere thought of Zhang Hua promoting and caring for me—all her favors—made me want to cover up her evil deeds. I was too confused to tell the difference between good and evil, black and white! At this point, I was able to discern some things about the idea of repaying kindnesses. I could see it was not a positive thing, but a fallacy Satan uses to deceive and corrupt people. I knew I shouldn’t live by this, shouldn’t take it as a principle of conduct.

Later, I read more in God’s word. “The traditional cultural concept that ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’ needs to be discerned. The most important part is the word ‘kindness’—how should you view this kindness? What aspect and nature of ‘kindness’ is it referring to? What is the significance of ‘a kindness received should be gratefully repaid’? It is essential for anyone who pursues the truth to figure out the answers to these questions. What is ‘kindness’ according to human notions? On a smaller level, kindness is someone helping you out when you are in trouble. For example, somebody giving you a bowl of rice when you are starving, or a bottle of water when you’re dying of thirst, or helping you up when you fall down and can’t get up. These are all acts of kindness. A great act of kindness is someone rescuing you when you’re in desperate straits—that is a life-saving kindness, or someone helping you to avoid death when you’re in mortal danger, essentially saving your life. These are some of the things that people perceive as ‘kindness.’ That sort of kindness far surpasses any petty, material favor—it is a great kindness that cannot be measured in terms of money or material things. Those who receive it feel a kind of gratitude that is impossible to express with just a few words of thanks. Is it accurate, though, for people to measure kindness in this way? (It is not.) Why would that be? (Because this measurement is based on the standards of traditional culture.) This is an answer based in theory and doctrine, and while it may seem right, it does not get to the essence of the matter. So, how can one explain this in practical terms? Think about it carefully. A while ago, I heard about a video online in which a man drops his wallet without realizing it. The wallet gets picked up by a small dog who chases after him, and when the man sees this, he beats the dog for stealing his wallet. Absurd, isn’t it? The man has less morals than a dog! The dog’s actions were in complete accordance with human standards of morality. A human would have called out, ‘You dropped your wallet!’ but because the dog couldn’t speak, it just silently picked up the wallet and trotted after the man. So, if a dog can carry out some of the good behavior encouraged by traditional culture, what does that say about humans? Humans are born with conscience and reason, so they’re all the more capable of doing these things. As long as someone has a conscience, they can fulfill these kinds of responsibilities and obligations. They don’t need you to put in hard work or pay a price, they require little effort and are simply a matter of doing something helpful, something of benefit to others. But does the nature of this act really qualify as ‘kindness’? Does it rise to the level of an act of kindness? (It doesn’t.) Since it does not, do people need to talk of repaying it? That would be unnecessary(The Word, Vol. 6. On the Pursuit of the Truth. What It Is to Pursue the Truth (7)). As I pondered His word, my heart was enlightened. God says, “The most important part is the word ‘kindness’—how should you view this kindness?” As soon as I could figure out how to view the idea of “kindness,” I would see the truth and no longer be deceived or controlled by it. So I mulled it over. I believed Zhang Hua had shown kindness to me in two main ways. Firstly, she promoted me. Second, she had a brother provide me with medicine while she was leader. Now, were these actually kindnesses? Actually, when someone is sick or faces some difficulty, lending a helping hand to provide some relief is normal behavior—it’s common sense. But it hardly constitutes a special kindness that must be repaid. When Zhang Hua learned of my liver disease and had the brother give me medicine, this can actually be viewed as her responsibility, one that exists among all reasonable people who have a conscience. But I took her help to heart and labeled it as special kindness that must be repaid, even trying to keep her in the church by covering up her evil deeds. By repaying her kindness in this way, wasn’t I sacrificing the church’s interests for my own? I was utterly confused.

I also wondered if Zhang Hua promoting me counted as a special kindness. I thought of this in God’s words: “You must see through this issue. Regardless of what the period is or what stage of work is being done, God always needs a portion of people to cooperate. God has predestined that these people cooperate with God’s work or take part in spreading the gospel. … Which of you performing your duty in the house of God right now are here by chance? No matter what background you came from, it is not by chance that you are performing your duty. These duties cannot be done by several believers picked at random; these things were predestined by God before the ages. What does it mean for something to be predestined? What are the details? It means that in His entire management plan, God long ago planned how many times you would come among the world of man, which lineage and which family you would be born into during the last days, what the circumstances of this family would be, whether you would be male or female, what your strengths would be, what level of education you would have, how articulate you would be, what your caliber would be, what you would look like, at what age you would come to the house of God and begin performing your duty, and what duty you would perform at what time—God predestined each step for you long ago. Before you were born, when you came among man in your last several lives, God had already arranged what duty you would perform during this, the final stage of work(The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Part Three). The more I pondered God’s words, the clearer things became. My text-based work may have seemed due to Zhang Hua’s promotion, but God is the One organizing everything. It was He who led me gradually into this role. If the house of God hadn’t possessed this job, I couldn’t have performed this duty. So hadn’t this all happened as a result of the work of God? It’s God I should have been thankful and grateful toward, and yet I had considered Zhang Hua as the source of this favor, and wanted to repay her for it. I couldn’t see the grace of God, only that of man. I was truly blind, ignorant, unreasonable and foolish. Zhang Hua’s duty as church leader was to train and promote people according to the work requirements of God’s house—I should have thanked God, rather than assign this kindness to another person. Once I understood this, I felt relief. The gratitude I’d felt to her for over ten years, the thankfulness I’d felt for her appreciation of me, and my desire to repay her all disappeared. I no longer felt indebted to her or sorry for revealing her evil deeds. The guilt for being ungrateful disappeared as well and there was no more question of any kindness between us. Just as God says, “For Me, this kind of ‘kindness’ simply does not exist, and I hope the same is true for you. How should you think about it, then? Simply regard it as an obligation, a responsibility, and a natural human instinct. You should treat it as your responsibility and obligation as a human being, and do it to the best of your ability. That is all(The Word, Vol. 6. On the Pursuit of the Truth. What It Is to Pursue the Truth (7)). God’s word freed me from the bondage of needing to repay kindnesses and corrected my perspective on these matters. I am very thankful to Him.

So anyway, I thought the matter was finished. But then a few days ago, my hometown church wrote me again, asking me to write down clearly Zhang Hua’s behavior, as well as the times and places it took place, when she had stood up for antichrists and evil people, and had followed antichrists to do evil. Without such evidence, it would be impossible to expel her. After receiving the letter, I was still a little uneasy. If I wrote this, Zhang Hua would certainly be expelled. She’d been so good to me. If I did this, wouldn’t I … But I quickly realized that the satanic principle of repaying kindnesses was at work here. I had to ignore this idea and practice according to God’s word. I remembered that God’s word says: “By what principle do God’s words ask that people treat others? Love what God loves, and hate what God hates: This is the principle that should be adhered to. God loves those who pursue the truth and are able to follow His will. These are also the people that we should love. Those who are not able to follow God’s will, who hate God, and rebel against God—these people are despised by God, and we should despise them, too. This is what God asks of man. … During the Age of Grace, the Lord Jesus said, ‘Who is My mother? And who are My brothers?’ For whoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother’ (Matthew 12:48, 50). This saying already existed back in the Age of Grace, and now God’s words are even more clear: Love what God loves, and hate what God hates.’ These words cut straight to the point…(The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Only by Recognizing One’s Own Misguided Views Can One Truly Transform). God’s word makes it very clear: We should treat people with principle, love what God loves and hate what God hates. Those who pursue and practice the truth are our brothers and sisters and should be treated with love. Those who don’t pursue the truth or practice it at all, or even commit evil that disrupts the church’s work are not brothers and sisters but Satan’s lackeys, evil people. They need to be exposed, discerned, and cleared out of the church. Only this accords with God’s will. I did not hesitate after understanding this. With the documents I had provided earlier and with careful recollection, I drew up an account of her evil deeds. After sending back my reply, I felt peaceful and at ease. I had finally escaped the constraints of the concept of repaying kindnesses and my heart felt relief.

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