Spoiler alert: This story does not make me look good.
It was 1984, and my family and I lived in Roopville, Georgia. We were enjoying one of those idyllic west Georgia October days, with temperatures cool enough for a jacket but the sun graciously, brightly beaming. It was a perfect Saturday to explore the woods, which is what my little brother, Brent, and I decided to do. I was 14 and he was 9. My parents owned several acres behind our house, and we boys felt adventurous. In such a mood, I decided I’d like to see how far those woods went, but rightly wondered if Brent was game for such a walk. Therefore, I had to have a ruse. We hadn’t walked too far when there was some noise nearby, and I went to work–concerned face, raised eyebrows, hushed voice, and panicked eyes. “Brent, I think I just saw a bear!” Trusting me to be a legitimate source of truth, he accepted my statement at face value. What was my solution to this sudden dilemma? Brent wanted to retreat back to the house, probably less than a quarter mile behind us. What sense did that make? Far better to keep walking away from the safety of our home deeper into the woods of neighbors and eventually strangers. As every older sibling knows, far too often seniority can trump sensibility. So, we ran from that “bear” for miles and hours. Eventually, our circuitous journey took us several miles south just outside the little town of Centralhatchee. We were gone for most of the daylight hours of that fateful Saturday, and the only credible decision I made that day was knowing we should walk north on Highway 27 to get back home. Suffice it to say, I was not hailed as the conquering hero upon our return that evening. But, throughout that walk, I built and strengthened the narrative that this lengthy sojourn was about escaping the razor-sharp clutches of my mythic bear. I mentioned it so often to Brent that day that it just became easy to tell my parents with such conviction. Under the vise of interrogation, my story unraveled. My punishment was swift and enduring.
I knew better. I wanted this adventure and I wanted company. One needs a calculator to compute the number of bad decisions cascading from my developing prefrontal cortex. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew I was lying to Brent. In time, I believed the lie myself. We survived my harebrained scheme, but my credibility took a hit.
“Honesty is the best policy.” That’s true of character. It’s no truer than for anyone in a position to teach someone else God’s Word. Some teachers themselves are deluded and believe a lie (2 Th. 2:10-12). Others “are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such an eternal task befalls the teacher (Jas. 3:1). We must be honest with the text, honest with our conclusions, and that starts by being honest with ourselves. We’re leading people somewhere with how we live and what we say we believe is right and wrong. Let’s handle that with care. It’s about both the journey and the destination (Mat. 7:13-14).