Summary: God strengthens us with everything we need for God-glorifying and self-satisfying humility.

Scripture Introduction

Our church in Chicago participated in a prison ministry. One week the director of the work sent out an email with this last line: “And remember (as we say in Texas) don’t squat with your spurs on.” That is “practical” knowledge—a fact which quickly pays a dividend.

God intends his truth to be practical. Many people are surprised to hear that because they can imagine nothing less so than sermons and theology. We pastors are partially to blame—at times we fail to show clearly enough how great theological truths work out in practical application.

But the fault is not all mine—sometimes God’s answers are clear, but we dislike what he says and refuse to obey! Romans 7 describes this conflict between the sinful desires of the heart and the spiritual desires given by God: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7.15,21-23).

I remind you that the Bible is practical because these verses are among the deepest and most theologically profound teachings in the whole of Scripture. As a result, we usually think about this passage away from its context. For example, the index in the back of our hymnal shows 15 hymns reference Philippians 2, six about Jesus’ birth, one his crucifixion, and eight his exaltation. All of those are good and true, but the context of Christian humility is not represented. Our confessions of faith use Philippians 2 as a proof text many times, but never connect the work of Christ with the character of humility. Make no mistake—Philippians 2.5-11 explains the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. Just be sure to remember that Paul does not aim to display theological profundity but to challenge the church to the practice of humility.

I will read verses 1-11, then we can ask Jesus, “gentle and lowly in heart,” to teach us godly humility.

[Read Philippians 2.1-11. Pray.]


One of the first conductors born and educated in the United States to receive worldwide acclaim was Leonard Bernstein. He directed the New York Philharmonic, conducted concerts by some of the world’s leading orchestras, wrote symphonies, and music for Broadway hits such as West Side Story and Candide. His obituary in The New York Times (October 15, 1990) called him “one of the most… talented and successful musicians in American history.”

Bernstein once was asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He said, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem.”

Last week Dave attended at the annual conference of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. There he heard a lecture entitled, “Second Fiddles—How to Lead When You’re Not the Primary Leader.” George Grant explained from the lives of the Reformers how important is the work of those who do not get all the attention.

Someone wrote a poem about the humility required to be second. Here are three verses:

The hardest instrument to play

Is second fiddle, so they say

And I believe this is so

I’ve tried, but haven’t mastered it though

It takes more grace than pen can tell

To play the second fiddle well.

The second fiddle compliments

All the other instruments

While faithful to keep time and tone

Tis of great price and worth unknown

It takes more grace than pen can tell

To play the second fiddle well.

The master looks for those who he

Can use in his great symphony

Tis but a few can bend and blend

On whom he always can depend

It takes more grace than pen can tell

To play the second fiddle well.

Or as Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Paul defines humility in Philippians 2.3: “Count others more significant than yourselves.” Humility, though hard to come by, is essential to a life of joy in the midst of a fallen world! If we seek honor for ourselves, we end up bitterly disappointed. God’s plan is the opposite: humble ourselves and excel in honoring others, and God will exalt us.

That is a radical idea! I think it would change your marriage. Or what if you teenagers had a contest to see which one of you could more highly honor your parents? Would that not make a difference in your family?

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Justin Franky

commented on Apr 22, 2013

Being humble is kinda a loss in this society. If everyone was humble that would be great for the world. But that''s not how our world is today and you kind of get stepped on and walked all over if you''re that way. Being nice is great but you''ve got to not be a NICE GUY.

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