The Balanced View of Saving Face
THE Bible indicates that the desire to save face is just about as old as mankind. In fact, the very first human sin was followed by an attempt to save face.
You may be familiar with the way Adam and Eve, our first parents, sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. Eventually, they had to answer for their crime. Their reactions were interesting. When Adam was forced to confess, he tried to blame Eve and even Jehovah God himself. He said: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.” Eve, too, tried to evade the blame. She said: “The serpent—it deceived me and so I ate.”—Gen. 3:8-13.
Have you ever been tempted to act in a similar way? When you have been faced with something you did wrong, have you tried to blame others? Some people will do anything rather than openly say: “I am sorry. I was wrong.” However, trying to save face does not change facts. Adam and Eve were punished for their sins in spite of their excuses.—Gen. 3:16-19.
Ananias and Sapphira were another married couple overly concerned with “face.” They tried to deceive the early Christian congregation by telling an outright lie, apparently wanting to build up their reputation, their “face,” among their fellow believers. God’s displeasure was shown when he caused their death. (Acts 5:1-11) Would Jehovah not view matters in a similar light today if, for example, a Christian falsely claimed to be doing more than he really was in God’s service? Or, would Jehovah not be displeased if, in any other way, we tried to pretend deceptively that we were different from what we really are?—Jas. 3:17.
DOES A CHRISTIAN NEED TO SAVE FACE?
Being concerned with “face” Seems to bring mostly bad results. This is because it is based on a wrong premise. It assumes that a person’s reputation is of paramount importance. This is not correct. Also, saving face may be based on pride, or on an exaggerated opinion of one’s own worth. This is not pleasing to Jehovah.—Prov. 16:18.
True, the Bible does say: “A name is better than good oil.” (Eccl. 7:1) This is referring, however, to the reputation a person earns, particularly in Jehovah’s eyes, over a lifetime of good works. It has nothing to do with the respect that a person demands from others whether he deserves it or not.
It is also true that in order to be a Christian elder a man must have a “fine testimony from people on the outside.” (1 Tim. 3:7) This “fine testimony,” however, is due to his Christian conduct and well-ordered family, not because he has a college degree, a prestigious job, or spends a lot of money on his friends.
Evidently Jesus Christ did not overly value his own “face” before others. When he preached to poor people, tax collectors and sinners instead of consorting with the religious leaders, this seems to have cost him a lot of “face” in the eyes of those proud men. (John 7:45-48) But Jesus was not deflected from doing his heavenly Father’s will because he was not seeking glory for himself. In fact, on one occasion he said: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.” (John 8:49-54) He was content to wait for his Father to glorify him. Nevertheless, Jesus’ actions did earn him a fine reputation before God and right-thinking men.
The same is true with us. If we try to glorify ourselves, particularly by hiding things, or by presenting a false front, this is clearly wrong and of no value in the long run. Far better is it to be concerned with the way God views us. Jesus himself said: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.”—Matt. 5:11, 12.
Jesus had this experience, particularly after he was arrested. The religious leaders took him for trial and tried to besmirch his reputation by means of false witnesses. Afterward he was laughed at and ridiculed. A crown of thorns was forced onto his head, and a purple robe was put on him in derision of the fact that he was a King. (Mark 14:55-65; 15:17-20) Then, while Jesus was dying, the gloating rulers stood around the torture stake mocking him. Even the way he died was viewed by the Jews as very shameful. (Luke 23:32-38; Gal. 3:13) In all of this, did Jesus try to defend his reputation or save face? No. Rather, the Scriptures tell us that he ‘despised shame.’ (Heb. 12:2) Far more important in his eyes was the glorifying of his Father’s name. (John 17:4, 11) And for this fine course of conduct, Christ’s reward was indeed great in the heavens. What an outstanding example for us today!—1 Pet. 2:21, 22.
HOW TO HANDLE THE “FACE” PROBLEM
How, then, should a Christian handle the problem of saving face? Really, there are two aspects of the matter to consider: our dealing with others, and our view of ourselves.
In dealing with others, a Christian should try to avoid putting them in situations wherein they may feel forced to try to save face. (Matt. 7:12) Hence, love and empathy will make an overseer giving counsel or correction do this in a kind, considerate way—with a “spirit of mildness.” (Gal. 6:1) A Christian preaching the “good news” to a nonbeliever will do so tactfully, “with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:15) In this way he will not hurt or embarrass the nonbeliever when that individual says things that are not accurate or finds that his cherished beliefs are false. Additionally, a Christian should not damage someone else’s reputation by spreading harmful gossip about him.—Prov. 16:28.
When we view ourselves, we have to recognize that it requires Christian maturity to avoid the trap of saving face. Even Job fell into it. Admittedly, he was under great pressure. His sufferings included a horrible disease, the loss of his family and discouragement from his wife. Then three so-called friends came along and accused him of sinning secretly. That was when Job burst out in vigorous self-justification. He declared “his own soul righteous rather than God.” (Job 32:2) But when Job heard the wise reasoning of Elihu and especially the reminders of Jehovah himself, his thinking was restored to proper balance. Job then gave glory to God rather than resorting to face-saving and trying to justify himself. As a result, he was richly blessed.—Job 42:1-6, 12, 13.
Hence, a Christian needs to check himself carefully. Often it is difficult to recognize that saving face is really the problem. It may be that in trying to deceive others, we have also succeeded in deceiving ourselves. The heart is treacherous and can do that to us. (Jer. 17:9) Especially is this true when we are under emotional pressure or are suddenly put on the spot. Prayerful analysis of our thinking, however, will help us to see the true situation. (Ps. 139:23, 24) And once we recognize it, we can, like Job, be helped to have our balance restored by God’s Word and by our Christian brothers.
Often it is not the opinion of opposers that worries us, but that of people close to us. For the sake of the “good news,” a mature Christian may endure ridicule in his community. But he may find it hard to admit a mistake or to confess a sin within the congregation and, as he thinks, run the risk of losing the respect his fellow Christians have for him. He may be highly embarrassed if his children do something wrong, and may try to hush it up.
This might even happen to a Christian overseer. Really, though, an elder in this situation who openly confesses his problem is working for the benefit of the congregation and is setting an example for others. Right-thinking people will respect him for his honesty. On the other hand, trying to avoid blame, or covering up what he or his family has done, is cowardice. It can also lead to lying. Both are detestable to God.—Rev. 21:8.
THREE VALUABLE CHRISTIAN QUALITIES
Hence we need to cultivate qualities that will help us to overcome the desire to save face. What are they? Well, honesty is one. (Heb. 13:18) If we value honesty, we will not want to put on a false front, such as saving face nearly always involves. This may be difficult. That is why we may also need humility and courage to help us to stay honest, both with ourselves and with others. (Prov. 15:33; 1 Cor. 16:13) Additionally, humility will overcome the false pride that makes us want to save face in the first place.
Yes, courage, honesty and humility will help us to avoid the trap of saving face. Paul said that some viewed him as a fool. (1 Cor. 4:10) Do you mind if people view you as a fool if you know in your heart that you are doing God’s will? Or does fear of other people’s opinions prevent you from doing what is right? Teen-agers particularly need courage, honesty and humility to stand for right principles instead of resorting to face-saving and following the crowd.—1 Pet. 4:4.
Jesus compared those serving God to “good-for-nothing slaves.” (Luke 17:10) Do you view yourself in that way? Or do you think you are quite important? Paul encouraged us ‘not to think more of ourselves than it is necessary to think.’ (Rom. 12:3) He also encouraged us to do “nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior” to us.—Phil. 2:3.
The Scriptures clearly indicate that there is no room in the Christian congregation for saving face, or for getting honor for ourselves. Those important Christian qualities of humility, courage and honesty are completely opposed to face-saving. It may not be easy to think this way, especially if we have grown up in a culture that values saving face above all. But, with the help of God’s holy spirit, Christians are able to make changes in the way they act. Even ‘the force actuating their mind’ can change, if they really want it to. (Eph. 4:23) So be alert to the dangers of saving face. Realize that it is a trap of the fallen flesh, and, by all means, avoid it!