I’m not a big devotee of musicals, but because both my children performed in school musicals and my wife still directs them, I’ve been exposed to a few. One of the songs that occasionally floats through my brain comes from “The Sound of Music.” Perhaps you remember Maria singing “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things,” a song in which she list some of her personal preferences.
We all have preferences of one kind or another, and my list differs quite a bit from Maria’s. I prefer creamy Peter Pan peanut butter, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, Krispy Kreme donuts hot off the line, and Zero candy bars. Those are a few of my favorite things. Now, I don’t argue with people who eat the crunchy Jiff peanut butter or Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream or Dunkin Donuts cake-like donuts or Snickers candy bars. There’s plenty of room for give and take when it comes to preferences.
There are things, however, that do warrant a firm stand. These are one’s principles. Whereas preferences have to do with our likes and dislikes, principles deal with the fundamental truths that underlie our beliefs and actions. Our principles are the foundations upon which are lives are to be built. When we confuse principles and preferences, we end up in disputes that could be avoided fairly easily.
Sadly, many people have chosen to build their lives not on principles but on personal preferences. These are things that don’t matter greatly but end up dividing us into groups – even in the church: hymns versus contemporary music, dress clothes versus more casual attire, pews versus chairs, stained glass versus plain glass or no glass at all, and the list is just beginning. We can add to it the length of a man’s hair or a woman’s dress, the length of prayers or sermons or the service itself, the color of the carpet, the picture on the bulletin, and on and on and on. Our preferences end up building walls between us that God never intended to be built.
Our preferences arise from our likes and dislikes. Our principles arise (or at least should arise) from God’s revealed Word. As God shows us His will and His ways, our attitudes must adjust. Those issues that are important to Him should become important to us. We must even be willing to change our opinions and preferences when they begin to conflict with the truths that the Lord reveals to us or if they begin to cause division within the church. Principles are solid; preferences are not.
The next time you get bent out of shape over something in your church, ask yourself if it is a matter of preference or principle. If it is the former, be gracious and understanding and flexible. If it is the latter, hold firm – but do this also with grace and understanding.