One of the marks of genuine love is deference. The definition of deference is “to respectfully yield to the opinion or desire of another person”.
Sometimes this involves deferring to another even when we want something different. What would motivate one to willingly and kindly defer to someone? Only one thing, love. The Bible says that love “seeketh not her own”. (I Corinthians 13:5)
There are two practical ways believers are to practice deference. When we do this people know that we care for them and love them.
The first way we defer as Christians concerns our participation in questionable activities. It is no surprise that even the most dedicated believers disagree on some things that are right and wrong. Obviously if the Bible plainly forbids an action, word, or activity then we submit to the teaching of God’s Word.
Today there are two very opposite extremes in what people believe and each is evidenced not only by what they do, but by their attitude. On one end of the spectrum are those that claim to live by liberty. (Those on the other extreme would call this “license”). The other point of the spectrum is to live by law. (Those on the “liberty” end would call this “legalism”).
Here is what is challenging for many; if you have grown up in church it was typically in one of these two environments, both of them very different. It is rare to find balance in a church because most believers lack balance.
The more you grow spiritually, the more convictions you will develop about various matters. This is both good and needful. The balance as you determine strong Bible convictions is discernment as to what is right and wrong (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Convictions are important, but they must be based on the Bible. If your beliefs about behavior aren’t determined by Scriptural discernment then they are personal preferences. Some would mock preferences, but everyone has them. They can protect us from sin.
Here are two statements you will hear from those that are on each end of the spectrum of license and legalism concerning grey areas. Those in legalism would say, “You can’t do that; it’s wrong”. Those claiming liberty would say, “There’s nothing wrong with what I am doing; get off my back”.
What is the guiding principle for us when the Bible doesn’t speak clearly to an issue (and there are some)? How can we come to a proper decision, whether to participate or to abstain from an activity? The chief guideline is that of love, we do what is best for the other person, not ourselves. This is deference.
In the early church there was a major disagreement about eating certain types of food. For example, those in false religions would offer animal sacrifices to the idols they worshiped. Afterward the meat of the animals would be sold to the butcher shops in the market places and it would be sold at bargain prices.
Some of the believers would buy the meat and eat it without a twinge of conscience. They knew there was no such thing as these false idols and it meant nothing. (To be honest, I would have been in this category). However, in the same church some had been saved from false religion steeped in worshiping these false idols and they were highly offended that their brothers and sisters in Christ would buy meat that had been offered to false gods.
This sounds silly to us perhaps, but in that day it was a hot potato issue. The same principle can be transferred to us today, though. It probably isn’t an issue over food, but you can substitute the term “questionable issue” over the meat offered to an idol being purchased and it would be the same.
How are we to decide what to do? God clearly says it is an issue of love where the more mature person defers his wishes to abstain from his desired activity. Read the following Scripture carefully.
“But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of.” (Romans 14:15-16) A walk of love practices deference in regard to areas where others might be offended by our actions. Those that refuse to yield their rights not only lack love, but also lack happiness because of their selfishness.
Paul practiced this principle of deference in his life and ministry – “Giving no offense in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed”. (II Corinthians 6:3) Love motivates me to defer what I want to do for the good of someone else. This would solve so many church problems and unnecessary conflicts between believers.
A second way we practice deference is concerning the desires and wants of our family and friends. If a desire is holy, right and good then love makes us want to make that happen for them. (Just one exception here. When your children are young they need to learn obedience and we are to train them to obey. As they grow older we ought to seek ways to look for their good desires and meet them as is appropriate).
Self-centeredness is simply thinking only about what I am getting out of a situation. Being others-oriented is being concerned with being a servant and a blessing to those around us.
This is so simple, but why don’t we do this? Our selfishness and fear combine to convince us that if we defer our own desires for others that we will come out on the short end. We protect and hoard because we see everything as a transaction to make sure we don’t lose; it is a life of keeping score.
This is especially seen in the differing actions of Abraham and Lot when they were dividing property lines. Abraham, the elder, gave Lot, his nephew, the first choice and Lot chose the land that was worth more. Rather than deferring to his Uncle Abraham who was not only older, but had mentored him in how to be successful in business, Lot selfishly took the best.
The story has an interesting twist though. Right after they separated, Abraham apparently being taken advantage of and wondering if he had done the right thing, had a special word from God. The Lord promised Abraham that He was going to give him all of the land, even that which Lot had chosen for himself. God honored the deference of Abraham. (Read the entire story in Genesis 13:5-18).
I want my family and my friends to know that I love them. One way I can do this is to practice deference of my own desires that they might enjoy the things they want that are good and fun.
When we bought our cars I deferred to the colors and styles that Paula wanted. The home we live in was one that she wanted. To be truthful, I had another one I liked better, but I wanted her to be happy. I did so because I loved her.
Sometimes I take our kids on dates and I always ask where they want to go and it’s my joy to please them. (There are times when I take them to special places without telling them – and Paula, too).
Paula defers to me in so many areas. I know there are some things I need to work on that aggravate her, but she is patient with me and defers her preferences. It’s a lot easier to have a relationship with a person that is unselfish and defers to you. It makes you want to please them and love them even more.
Today when you are faced with an opportunity to make a choice with your family defer to them. Let them feel loved. Remember, love “seeketh not her own”. (I Corinthians 13:5)