Avoid the Snare of “Saving Face”
If you were told to redeem your honor by committing harakiri, how would you respond? Of course, you would not go along with the idea. And yet, it is not so long since this ‘face-saving’ practice was an everyday occurrence in the Orient. This kind of suicide may be out of fashion nowadays, but “saving face” continues to be practiced extensively in many ways, both in the Orient and in Western countries. It is ungodly and unscriptural, and, if practiced in the Christian congregation, it brings disturbance, disunity and, in the case of the individual, even spiritual suicide.
According to Webster’s New International Dictionary, “to save one’s face” means “to conceal one’s defeat, discomfiture, or loss of prestige, by some pretense.” It therefore amounts to a lie. Its basis is pride, a fear of having one’s ego hurt. It refuses to acknowledge a fault or to face up to an issue. It denies the need for correction or discipline. Self is right, no matter what the circumstances. ‘Face saving’ is rooted in emotion, not principle, and it often causes its victim to withdraw into himself or to shun association with the very friends who could really help in the hour of need. How may we avoid this snare of “saving face”?
“DO NOT CONTINUE RUNNING WITH THEM”
To Christians who had turned from the thoughts and way of life of their pagan neighbors, the apostle Peter wrote: “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” (1 Pet. 4:4) ‘Running with the crowd’ is the custom today, also, and many will go to any dishonest ends in order to maintain an outward appearance of respectability in the community. They must “save face” and “keep face” with their neighbors at all costs.
However, what of the Christian who has been delivered “from the present wicked system of things”? He should have put away “the old personality,” which conforms to his former course of conduct. And now he is to live, think and act according to “the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 4:22-24) Note those words, “true righteousness and loyalty.” Jehovah’s righteousness—not self-righteousness—and loyally doing God’s will are what count with him now.—Rom. 12:1, 2.
What does he do, then, when it is the local practice to “save face” and go along with the crowd? For example, does he have to maintain “respectability” by running into debt? Does he have to conform to the community in its showy celebration of weddings, special feast days, children’s days and religious holidays? Does he have to “save face” with relatives by participating in pagan wedding ceremonies, or even consenting to taking an unbelieving mate? Certainly not! And likewise, “true righteousness and loyalty” will preclude his absenting himself from the Christian congregation, or even quitting altogether, when faced with problems that could actually be solved through the understanding help of his Christian brothers.
ACKNOWLEDGING AND COMBATING “SIN”
Prideful ‘face-saving’ often arises from a failure to recognize and cope with the problem of “sin.” Many today refuse to acknowledge “sin” as such. They square themselves off in their own minds. They cloud over issues, or try to throw blame on others. As they keep justifying themselves, their minds become seared as by a branding iron, so that they are no longer able to discern between right and wrong.—1 Tim. 4:2.
All of us are prone to sin. “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (Jas. 3:2) What, then, if we commit some sin? Should we seek the course of self-justification, glossing it over or trying to cover up? Rather than try to “save face,” we do better to follow James’ further advice: “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” (Jas. 5:16) And having been healed, what need is there for further torments of conscience? That sin is in the past. Stretch forward, now, to the things ahead.—Phil. 3:13.
Let us face up to the fact that, as long as we live in this imperfect flesh, we will commit sin. “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8–2:2) If we are to be honest with our God, with our brothers and with ourselves, we will acknowledge our sins and shortcomings. Never should we “save face” by pretending that we do not sin.
A Christian may be suddenly caught in some circumstances that test his integrity. For example, he may be at a gathering where someone calls for a “toast”—a practice that he knows to be of pagan origin. Or at a funeral all in attendance may fall in line to offer incense or bow toward the picture of the dead person—pagan practices tied in with the false belief that the soul is immortal. Or there may be the situation in a crowd where all rise to the playing of the national anthem—whereas the Christian has declared undivided allegiance to God’s kingdom. It is best to avoid situations that could lead to compromise. However, if “caught on the spot,” as it were, the mature Christian will show himself to be an integrity keeper in the same way that Jesus Christ, the three Hebrew youths, Daniel and others kept integrity under trial.—Matt. 4:1-11; Dan. 3:14-18; 6:6-11.
In the case of a serious sin, one that brings deep reproach on Jehovah’s name and on the Christian congregation, the healthful course is to confess one’s wrongdoing to responsible brothers in the congregation. (Jas. 5:14-16) But how should one view these servants in God’s organization? As fearsome judges? Far from it! The congregation committee is there to bear the weaknesses of others, to build up and to encourage.—Rom. 15:1, 2.
‘RESTORING . . . IN A SPIRIT OF MILDNESS’
The overseers and ministerial servants in the Christian congregation should be, and usually are, approachable. This approachability itself should discourage weaker members of the flock from trying to “save face.” If someone in the congregation has a problem he should go immediately to the overseer or other mature brothers, and not to some emotional, immature person who will pamper him. The responsible brothers are the ones assigned as “gifts in men,” to help all to grow to oneness of faith, “in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves.” (Eph. 4:8, 13, 14) They are our “hiding place from the wind” in time of stormy trouble. (Isa. 32:2) The true overseer is ever watchful to help, and to build up, in line with Paul’s advice: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness.”—Gal. 6:1.
So, overseers and ministerial servants are charged, not to browbeat weak members of the flock, but to “restore” them, to build them up. When counseling, even where serious sins have been committed, these servants are never to scold or grow angry. Rather, they will be an example in displaying “the fruitage of the spirit,” which includes “kindness, . . . mildness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) Those of the flock who realize this should be eager to go to these servants for help, rather than “save face” by absenting themselves from the Christian congregation.
In most cases it is the unrepentant who insist on ‘practicing sin’ that are expelled, disfellowshiped from God’s organization. (1 John 3:4; 1 Cor. 5:11) ‘A man who takes some false step before he is aware of it’ does not fall into the class of such incorrigible sinners. However, there may be occasions, due to the seriousness of the sin, when the congregation committee finds it necessary to place a person on a probation of surveillance, as a helpful, corrective measure. Such probation is not to be viewed as some adverse judgment, something destructive of one’s “honor,” a penalty to be bucked against. Rather, it is a loving provision affording him opportunity to prove the sincerity of his repentance and at the same time to help the repentant sinner recover his spirituality and to make him strong again. Kindly counsel given during the probationary period will build the person up so that he will not make a ‘practice’ of sin. Rather than try to “save face” by protesting a probation, and getting others involved emotionally, one who has committed a sin should welcome this loving arrangement leading to his recovery.
All dedicated Christians should place their complete confidence and trust in Jehovah. It is Jehovah who says: “Those honoring me I shall honor, and those despising me will be of little account.” (1 Sam. 2:30) Those who honor Jehovah will not seek self-honor among mortal men. In place of holding to lofty, ‘face-saving’ thoughts of men, true Christians will seek out Jehovah’s thoughts and be guided by the principles he so clearly states in his Word.