Face or Fact?

At first glance, our two words, differing in only one letter, seem to have little connection. Yet in relation to us spiritually they have a distinct order and relevance.

The above Scripture written to the Corinthians could be paraphrased, “Do you look at things according to face value only?” They had said, “his [Paul’s] letters … are weighty … his bodily presence is weak” (v10). From there it seems that they were prepared to dismiss his doctrine, which is fact, based on having dismissed his appearance. The principle set before us is that we can inappropriately assess things or persons by how they appear and not by what is said or taught. We can see the face and miss the fact behind it.

Earlier, in chapter five, Paul spoke of “them which glory in appearance, and not in heart” (v5). Again, we have this term “appearance” which is most often translated in the New Testament as “face.” Here it is not a matter of assessing others but promoting self for honor based only on “face” value. The context reveals Paul’s heart for the lost because of Christ’s love for the lost; and that he expected what he had taught, the facts, to likewise affect the Corinthians. “That they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them” (v15).

It was to the Romans that Paul said, “ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom 6:17). The doctrine was as a mold applied to the hearers and, when obeyed, it effectively shaped their lives. The fact was taught and the face was wrought. But some, as in Corinth, were only interested in the result, not the reason.

Today, after years of testimony in an assembly, it is too easy to find ourselves inclined to teach the face of the doctrine rather than the fact of the doctrine. We want to see the visual display or conformity to truth that the doctrine is intended to produce. But how often has the fact of the doctrine been casually or, even worse, hardly presented and only the face (of what the Christian life should look like) presented? When this has been the case, perhaps throughout a generation or more, it is all too likely that face will displace fact and eventually the doctrine could be rejected.