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How to play a great second fiddle

by darlene hight  
4/18/2008 / Church Life

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated Orchestra Conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation, "Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find me one who plays second fiddle with as much enthusiasm or second french horn or second flute, now that's a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony."

I have great admiration for those who play a great second fiddle. One second fiddle who springs to mind is Vivian Vance. You may remember her as the lovable Ethel Mertz in the popular "I Love Lucy" television show. Can you imagine how dull Lucy's antics would have been without her partner in crime, Ethel? Vivian knew how to shine in her role as Ethel, but she never tried to outshine Lucy. That wasn't her role. Her role was to help Lucy sparkle as the star of the show. She played a great second fiddle.

It's tough to be second. Even children clamor to be first. If you ask a group of children whether they would like to be president when they grow up, many would say "Yes". However, I've never heard one say that they want to be vice president, though vice president is a great accomplishment. Our natural tendency is to vie for the best positions. It is a rare gem that's able to glitter while standing in the light of a multifaceted diamond.

Barnabas was one such jewel. We meet Barnabas for the first time in Acts 4:36. Instantly, two things can be recognized from that passage. The first thing is that his name has been changed to Barnabas, which means 'Son of Encouragement.' Obviously, he was someone that the apostles liked having around. He lifted them up. He was an encourager. The second thing is that he did whatever was necessary for the team or the objective. Scripture says that "he sold a field and laid the money at the apostles' feet." With this one act, he was telling them to use the money however it was needed--no conditions or pet projects attached. He just gave what he had.

In Acts 13:1, Barnabas and Saul were called out. They were sent as a team to preach the gospel. They became traveling missionaries. Interestingly, neither of them was designated leader. They were sent out as equals; both teachers. I believe we can also conclude from scripture that they had very different personalities. It would be safe to say that Saul was zealous. When he was opposing Christ, he was zealous to kill anyone proclaiming to be a Christian. Shortly after his conversion, we find him boldly teaching about Christ. On the other hand, Barnabas, more than likely, was a teacher who came alongside his students to lead them into the truth, patiently answering questions and challenging their beliefs in order to bring them to a full understanding.

As a team, they were unstoppable! Early in their journeys, the scripture indicates indirectly that Paul moved into the position of leader (Acts 13). Statements such as
"Paul and his companions sailed to Perga" indicate this. Many messages delivered by Paul can be read in scripture. However, none of Barnabas' messages were recorded. Never the less, Acts 14:1-3 clearly states "They spoke" and "So, Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord." Barnabas played a great second fiddle! He worked side by side with Paul. Paul was a gifted speaker--first fiddle. He held the platform, but Barnabas helped him to shine.

How do we become a Barnabas (an encourager)? How can we go about becoming a great second fiddle? Here are a few suggestions:

#1. A great second fiddle player always keeps his eyes on the higher calling--The Performance. He doesn't spend his time looking at the first fiddle player to see how he is measuring up. Instead, he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the conductor.

No doubt, Barnabas spent time in the presence of God. He looked to Him to provide his worth, and submitted himself to God's vision. He was more concerned about the salvation of the lost than his position.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it's shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

#2. A great second fiddle always plays in harmony with the orchestra. They are working together as part of the symphony to create an exquisite concert. Each player needs to play their part exceptionally, without regard to their position within the orchestra.

So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:25 27 NIV)

#3. Remember, the conductor's ear is tuned and he assigns the seats. It is the full responsibility of the conductor to position players in the best place for accomplishing a quality performance.

Likewise, God knows our frame. He made us, and he made us with a specific plan and design for our life. He assigns the seats and he won't be negligent in rewarding our service. We never need to squabble and vie for the most prominent place. After all, in heaven we will be positioned according to an altogether different pattern--and only God knows what that will be.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1Peter 5:4 NIV)

From Illustrations Unlimited, by James S. Hewett p. 450

Darlene Hight

Darlene is a writer who travels with her husband, Mark across rural United States as he builds power plants.

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