What Lies Behind a “Good Image”
By Wei Chen, South Korea
In December 2019, I was working as the gospel deacon in the church. After a while, I found that when the leaders noticed issues in how brothers and sisters performed their duties, they’d point them out directly, sometimes in a really harsh tone. I figured it was right for them to point these things out, but their approach was shaming and could easily offend people. I didn’t want to be like them. Such things had to be said more tactfully to leave a good impression on people. That way I’d win everyone’s support and it would be easier to do my job. Then in the next election, I might have a shot at being picked as a leader. With that in mind, I was really careful about how I interacted with brothers and sisters. I tried to be really tactful and not hurt anyone’s feelings so everything was more palatable.
At one point I noticed that Sister Cheng cherrypicked easier tasks and shirked anything difficult, and she’d just retreat whenever she had to share the gospel with someone with a lot of notions or a poor attitude. And afterward she wouldn’t go equip herself with the relevant truths to resolve their notions. I saw she didn’t have the right attitude toward her duty and that there was no way she could do her duty well if she went on that way. I was going to mention it to her and share fellowship, but just as I was about to send her a message, it occurred to me that although she backed down in the face of difficulties, she did generally achieve things in her duty. If I mentioned her problem, she might say I was too demanding, and it could turn her against me. Then what would I do if she didn’t go along with any work arrangements I made in the future? If I didn’t perform well in my duty, wouldn’t the leaders say I wasn’t competent for the job? So as not to offend her, I didn’t breathe a word about her issue, but just sent her an encouraging message: “Some of the people we share the gospel with have a lot of notions, but they’re true believers. We have to have love and patience, and pray and lean on God more. The more difficulties we face, the more our faith can be perfected. We absolutely can’t shrink back.” She agreed at the time, but without any understanding of her problem, she kept turning away from anything difficult. She didn’t change at all. But I wasn’t aware of the problem at that time and I thought I was doing great. Every time I encountered something similar, I handled it like that. I never dealt with people or exposed their corruption or flaws, so brothers and sisters were all happy to work with me and they’d seek me out to talk about their states. That gave me even more confidence in my approach and I thought brothers and sisters thought highly of me, that everyone was really supportive of me.
Later on, I noticed that Sister Xia was pretty arrogant and self-righteous. She was stubborn and didn’t work well with others, and this had an impact on our gospel work. I thought about how Sister Xia was really arrogant and wouldn’t accept others’ suggestions, which then impacted her duty. I figured I should bring it up with her so she could turn things around. But then I wondered, if I did point it out and she wouldn’t accept it, but got sulky, what would I do then? In a gathering one time, I’d heard her give a pretty positive assessment of me, so I was worried that if I offended her, it might ruin the good image she had of me. If her impression of me changed, that could impact my chances at becoming a leader. After thinking it all through, I ended up not mentioning Sister Xia’s corruption and flaws. Instead I said, “I understand not getting good results in your duty or running into difficulties, but you have to reflect on yourself and think about why. We also need to work well with brothers and sisters.” I skirted the main issue, just giving her a few words of advice and encouragement. One of the leaders checked in with me about our work a few days later and I mentioned that Sister Xia was arrogant and self-righteous, and that she didn’t work well with others. Then the next time Sister Xia saw me, she said, “When the leader asked you about our work a few days ago, I was walking by and happened to overhear you say that I’m arrogant and self-righteous, and that I don’t work well with others. You’re well aware that I have a serious problem, but you haven’t said anything about it to me. You’ve just been accommodating. I’ve noticed in the past that you never lose your temper or reprimand people, but always soothe them instead. I thought you were a really good person. Now I realize you’re really ‘skilled,’ that you have your tactics. To put it bluntly, you’re a hypocrite.” Called out so directly by her, for a moment I could feel my face going beet red. The words “hypocrite” and “tactics” were burned into my brain. I was really upset and came before God in prayer, asking Him to guide me to understand my own corrupt disposition.
I read a passage ofin my devotionals the next day. “Deceitfulness is often outwardly evident. When someone is said to be very sly and shrewd with words, that is deceitfulness. And what is the chief characteristic of wickedness? Wickedness is when what people say is especially pleasing to the ear, when it all seems right, and irreproachable, and good no matter which way you look at it, but their actions are especially wicked, and highly furtive, and not easily discernible. They often employ some right words and nice-sounding phrases, and use certain doctrines, arguments, and techniques that are in line with people’s feelings to pull the wool over their eyes; they pretend to go one way but actually go another, using actions that are seemingly good, and right, in line with people’s feelings, and principled to achieve their secret aims. This is wickedness. People usually believe this to be deceitfulness. They have less knowledge of wickedness, and dissect it less, too; wickedness is actually more difficult to identify than deceitfulness, for it is more hidden, and the methods and techniques involved are more ‘clever.’ When people have a deceitful disposition within them, it usually only takes two or three days before you can see that they are deceitful, or that their actions and the kinds of things they say indicate a deceitful disposition. But when someone is said to be wicked, this is not something that can be discerned in one or two days. For if nothing significant or specific happens over the short-term, listening to their words alone you would think that they are a good person, that they are able to give things up and expend themselves, that they understand spiritual things, and everything they say is right, and you would have a hard time telling them for what they really are. There are many who say the right thing, do the right thing, and can spout doctrine after doctrine. After two or three days with such a person, you think them someone who understands spiritual things, who has a heart that loves God, who acts with conscience and sense. But then you start entrusting them with tasks, and you soon realize that they are not honest, that they are even more insidious than deceitful people—that they are something wicked. They often choose the right words, words that fit with the truth, that are in line with people’s feelings and with humanity, words that sound nice, and beguiling words to converse with people, in one regard, to establish themselves, and in another regard, to deceive others, giving them status and prestige among people, all of which easily bewitches those who are ignorant, who have a shallow understanding of the truth, who do not understand spiritual things, and who lack a foundation in their faith in God. This is what people with a wicked disposition do” (“For Leaders and Workers, Choosing a Path Is of Utmost Importance (3)” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days). By holding up my own behavior against God’s words, I realized my evil disposition was driving my actions. When I saw problems in brothers’ and sisters’ duties that were impacting their work, I wouldn’t expose them or bring up their problems so they’d all say I was a nice person and speak well of me. I clearly saw that Sister Cheng didn’t have the right attitude in her duty, that she only did what was easy and shirked anything difficult. I also saw that Sister Xia was arrogant and self-righteous, and that it was negatively affecting the church’s gospel work. I should have mentioned these things to them and shared fellowship to help them. But I was worried about what they’d think of me, that they wouldn’t support me in my work, and then the leaders would think poorly of me if my performance suffered. So I just said some nice-sounding, disingenuous things to encourage them. This way I could protect my relationships with them and maintain my image, and they’d continue to like my work—killing two birds with one stone. I was so crafty and conniving, and I’d been pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I’d deceived them, making them think I was really caring and understanding, and they really looked up to me and idolized me. Only then did I see that I had a cunning, evil disposition. If it hadn’t been for Sister Xia calling me out, and for the revelations of God’s words, I still wouldn’t have had any understanding of my evil disposition or any idea how serious it was. I saw how evil and despicable my actions had been, that it was disgusting to God and revolting to others!
I read this in God’s words after that. “Some church leaders do not rebuke brothers or sisters whom they see performing their duty carelessly and perfunctorily, though they should. When they see something that is clearly detrimental to the interests of God’s house, they turn a blind eye and make no inquiries, so as not to cause the least offense to others. Their true purpose and goal are not to show consideration for others’ weaknesses—they know full well what they intend: ‘If I keep this up and don’t cause offense to anyone, they’ll think I’m a good leader. They’ll have a good, high opinion of me. They’ll favor me and like me.’ No matter how much damage is done to the interests of God’s house, and no matter how greatly God’s chosen people are impeded in their life entry, or how greatly their church life is disturbed, such people persist in their satanic philosophy of causing no offense. There is never a sense of self-reproach in their hearts; at most, they might, in passing, make casual mention of some issue, and then be done with it. They do not fellowship the truth, nor do they point out the essence of others’ problems, and less still do they dissect people’s states. They do not lead people to enter truth reality, and they never communicate what God’s will is, or the wrongs people often commit, or the sorts of corrupt disposition people reveal. They do not resolve these practical problems; instead, they are ever indulgent of others’ weaknesses and negativity, and even their carelessness and apathy. They consistently let these people’s actions and behaviors go without being labeled for what they are, and, precisely because they do so, most people come to think, ‘Our leader is like a mother to us. They have even more understanding for our weaknesses than God does. Our stature may be too small to live up to God’s requirements, but it’s enough that we can live up to our leader’s. They are a good leader for us. …’ If people harbor such thoughts—if they have this sort of relationship with their leader, and such an impression of them, and have developed in their hearts such feelings of dependence, admiration, respect, and adoration toward their leader—how, then, ought the leader to feel? If, in this matter, they feel some self-reproach, some unease, and feel indebted to God, they should then not fixate on their status or image in the hearts of others. They should testify to God and exalt Him, so that He has a place in people’s hearts, and so that people revere God as great. Only thus will their heart be truly at peace, and one who does so is one who pursues the truth. If this is not the goal behind their actions, however, and they instead use these methods and techniques to entice people to stray from the true way and forsake the truth, going so far as to indulge people’s careless, perfunctory, and irresponsible performance of their duties, with an aim to occupy a certain place in people’s hearts and win their goodwill, is this not an attempt to win people over? And is this not an evil, detestable thing? It is abhorrent!” (“For Leaders and Workers, Choosing a Path Is of Utmost Importance (1)” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days). Seeing what God’s words revealed, I realized that acting based on my evil disposition was essentially deceiving people and winning them over in an attempt to own them, to control them. It was contrary to God and was exactly how an antichrist behaved! I couldn’t help but feel frightened by this thought. In order to protect the position I held in others’ hearts and my chances at being elected leader, when I saw problems in brothers’ and sisters’ duties, I never pointed them out directly or fellowshiped on the truth to resolve them. Instead, I said some nice-sounding things so others would like me and see me as considerate and loving. Without realizing it, I was amassing followers and it ended up that the people I’d deceived not only couldn’t see their problems and correct them, but their life entry was damaged, and they even looked up to me and idolized me. That was so evil and despicable of me! My total lack of regard for the lives of brothers and sisters, and indulging them as they performed their duties relying on their corrupt dispositions, had a negative impact on our work. I was fully acting as a minion of Satan, disrupting and undermining the work of God’s house. At this realization, I started to hate my corruption from the bottom of my heart. I came before God to pray and repent. I said, “Oh God, Your words have made me see how serious my evil disposition is and that I’m walking the path of an antichrist. I want to repent and forsake my personal motives and stop acting by my evil disposition.”
I thought of these words from God after my prayer: “‘And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.’ … In these brief words that God spoke, can you see anything of God’s disposition? Are these words of God true? Is there any deception? Is there any falsity? Is there any intimidation? (No.) God honestly, truthfully and sincerely told man what he may eat and what he may not eat. God spoke clearly and plainly. Is there any hidden meaning in these words? Are these words not straightforward? Is there any need for conjecture? (No.) There is no need for guesswork. Their meaning is obvious at a glance. Upon reading them, one feels entirely clear about their meaning. That is, what God wants to say and what He wants to express comes from His heart. The things God expresses are clean, straightforward and clear. There are no covert motives, nor any hidden meanings. He speaks to man directly, telling him what he may eat and what he may not eat” (“God Himself, the Unique IV” in). I read this and really felt how genuine God is with us. When God commanded Adam, He was very clear on what could and couldn’t be eaten so that man knew clearly what to do. There wasn’t anything confusing or misleading in God’s words, and there wasn’t any artifice or deception. God just wanted the best for mankind. He was genuinely thinking of us. He spoke absolutely honestly with man. I saw that God’s essence is sincere, holy, benevolent, and lovely. He really deserves our trust and admiration. But as for me, I wasn’t sincere with brothers and sisters at all. Everything I said and did was tainted with my personal motives. I was full of lies and deceit. I was just deceiving and using people and ultimately harming brothers and sisters. That was so evil of me! I felt incredibly guilty and full of regret at this thought. After that, I went to seek out Sister Xia and Sister Cheng and opened up to them about my corrupt disposition. I also told them about the problems I’d seen in their duties. They didn’t think poorly of me at all, but said that my having pointed out their problems so clearly would help them take them to heart, otherwise they wouldn’t have realized how serious their problems were. They also told me to feel free to let them know again if I saw problems in the future. I saw some changes in them after that, and they started doing better in their duties. This made me really happy.
In my devotionals after that, I focused on finding solutions for my corrupt disposition in God’s words. I read a couple of passages of God’s words. “Whether you now perform your duties or pursue the initial stages of dispositional change, no matter what corrupt dispositions you reveal—you must seek the truth to resolve them. … If, for example, you always try to disguise yourself with pleasant words, if you always desire a place in the hearts of others and to make others look up to you, if you have these intents, then that means you are being controlled by your disposition. Should you speak these pleasant words? (No.) If you do not speak them, then do you simply hold them in? If you find a cleverer phrasing, a different phrasing by which other people cannot detect your intents, this is still a problem with your disposition. What disposition? That of evil. Are corrupt dispositions easy to resolve? This involves one’s nature essence. People have this essence, this root, and it must be dug out bit by bit. It must be dug out from every state, from the intents behind every word you speak. It must be dissected and understood from the words you speak. When such awareness grows ever more clear and your spirit ever more astute, you can then achieve change” (“Only When You Know Yourself Can You Pursue the Truth” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days). “All that you do, every action, every intention, and every reaction should be brought before God. Even your daily spiritual life—your prayers, your closeness to God, how you eat and drink of God’s words, your fellowship with your brothers and sisters, and your life within the church—and your service in partnership can be brought before God for His scrutiny. It is such practice that will help you achieve growth in life. The process of accepting God’s scrutiny is the process of purification. The more you can accept God’s scrutiny, the more you are purified and the more you are in accord with God’s will, so that you will not be drawn into debauchery, and your heart will live in His presence. The more you accept His scrutiny, the greater are Satan’s humiliation and your ability to forsake the flesh. So, the acceptance of God’s scrutiny is a path of practice people should follow. No matter what you do, even when communing with your brothers and sisters, you can bring your acts before God and seek His scrutiny and aim to obey God Himself; this will make what you practice much more correct. Only if you bring all you do before God and accept God’s scrutiny can you be someone who lives in the presence of God” (“God Perfects Those Who Are After His Own Heart” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). As I considered God’s words, it became clear that in the face of an issue, I had to scrutinize my own thoughts, reflect on the motives behind my words and deeds, bring my speech and actions before God and accept His scrutiny, analyze and know myself when I find myself revealing an evil disposition, and pray and forsake myself without delay. In this way, that aspect of my corruption would gradually be cleansed.
Later on, I noticed there was a sister who seemed weak and wasn’t willing to undergo any hardship. She would turn back whenever she ran into problems in her gospel work. It occurred to me that she wasn’t taking responsibility for her duty and I needed to fellowship with her right away to turn things around. But my problem cropped up again. I thought that if I mentioned her problem, she might think I was being too harsh, and she might become resistant and averse to me. I wondered how to frame it so it would be acceptable for her and she wouldn’t become biased against me. At this thought, I realized that I was protecting my status and image among brothers and sisters again. I said this prayer to God in my heart: “Oh God, I’m ready to accept Your scrutiny and forsake my personal motives. I want to fellowship on the truth to help my sister and do my duty.” After that I shared fellowship with this sister dissecting her problem. I gained a lot of inner peace after putting this into practice. Now I have some discernment over my evil disposition, and when I encounter an issue, I consciously seek the truth and forsake my selfish motives. I’m able to act based on God’s words. This has all been achieved through the judgment of God’s words. I’m so grateful for God’s salvation!