Hi this is pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…What’s The Difference?
Today I would like to consider two words in the English language. Prefer and Defer. These two words rhyme, and carry much the same meaning…so what’s the difference? Besides spelling, the biggest difference I can come up with, and it’s an important distinction, is…motive.
If you go to the dictionary and look these words up, you will see what I am talking about. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word defer as; to submit to another’s wishes, opinion or governance. On the other hand, the same source defines the word prefer as; to like better, or to give priority to someone or something. So, to defer means to let someone else exercise authority in a situation. It is in fact choosing someone else over self but only because there is reason to offer that level of respect. We defer to someone when we decide they know more about a subject than we do, or they have more experience in a particular field than we might, or perhaps simply because they are bigger or more powerful in some way. I used to defer to my father because He was bigger than I was, and I didn’t desire to have that fact proven in a way I wasn’t going to like. To prefer someone however comes from a different motive altogether. We prefer that which we like more or most. For example, when my wife and I get ice cream I almost always get peanut butter swirl because I prefer it over the other options. I don’t choose that flavor because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t, I choose it because I like it more than all the others.
We can allow someone else to have their way under either of these two principles. We can allow someone else to make decisions because for some reason we feel we should or must defer, or we can allow them to make choices that affect us because we prefer them over ourselves. Again it all boils down to motive. I have fourteen grandchildren. I could make my point if I only had one…but I like to brag about the fact there are fourteen of them. Over the years, I have played many games with my grandchildren. Some of them enjoy racing with me in the back yard. No matter what the case may be, I generally let them win, or make choices whenever possible. Why? I could just say that is what a good papa does, but there is more to it than that. This particular papa is incredibly competitive. In fact, I like to win at just about anything that can be turned into a competition. But when it comes to those grandkids I like something much more than winning…watching them win! Is it because I am afraid of what will happen if they don’t win? Not at all. I do not defer to them, I prefer them. I like seeing them win or choose more than I like to win or choose. I take my joy in the situation from experiencing their joy. What’s the difference? Motive. We defer out of fear, we prefer out of love.
Romans 12:10 gives us the most clear-cut example of this being scriptural. It says; Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. Paul says here that as a result of love, we should prefer one another. Sometimes I like to look at the reverse truth of a thing. That truth here would translate as follows: when we choose to prefer another person over ourselves that is an act of love.
Paul also wrote in Philippians 2:1-4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (NIV) In this admonition, Paul is quite clear that preferring one another, or in his words, looking not to your own interests, but to the interests of others, is a result of several important conditions. First, being a Christ follower should make us want to prefer others. Second, the experience of Christ’s love toward us should make us desirous to prefer others. Third if we enjoy the privilege of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit it should motivate us to want to put others above ourselves. He said that if we have any tenderness or compassion it should drive us to prefer. Finally, he says that a heart of humility…which Jesus definitely encourages us to have…will choose to value others above self.
One might ask, if I prefer others, won’t that give them an open opportunity to run me over and make me their doormat? If I spend my time, resources and efforts to put others needs above my own, who is going to make sure I have what I need? I often hear these concerns or some variation of them in my counseling room. They are valid questions, and there are valid answers. Godly wisdom, which is the counsel found in God’s word in places like the scriptures above is governed by spiritual principles. Often they will not make sense to our human intelligence, sometimes they fly directly in the face of conventional worldly wisdom, and so they raise such questions. The spiritual principle that applies here however is that when I prefer my wife or children or grandchildren or anyone else for that matter, they no longer have to look out to see that their needs are being met, because I am busy meeting them. This frees them to be able to look to see what I might need. Are there selfish people who will take advantage of such a situation? Of course, but they are most often in the minority and not the majority. Even in these times however, spiritual principles respond. Jesus said that when we prefer someone over ourselves, and meet some need they have, He considers it as if we did that thing directly for Him, and He will see that we are cared for in the final analysis. Matthew 25:31-40 is a portion of scripture where Jesus is describing what Judgement day will be like. There it is recorded that He said; “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
This scripture is the guarantee that we cannot prefer someone else over ourselves and have it go unnoticed. Even if we must endure being ‘run over’ in the moment, if we are acting out of love and humility, and choosing to prefer others because we have been preferred by Jesus…in the end, we will be exalted.
So now, choosing to let someone else choose, not out of deference and fear, but out of preference motivated by love…go be awesome!