As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
Iron. It’s a metal that is known for its strength and stability. It is not easily bent. To shape or form iron, a blacksmith needs to heat the iron to an incredible temperature, and an intense amount of force needs to be applied to whack it into another shape. Heat and pressure: wow, that sounds like fun. And what about sharpening? When I find my Wustof knives need a little sharpening so they slice more easily through meat or veggies, I have to take that dulling blade and strike it against other metal. I can swipe it repeatedly against my knife steel (the handled little rod that came with my block of knives), which essentially chips away tiny shreds of the knife’s edge; I can also run it through my electric sharpener, which combines different stages of diamond, steel, and a stropping method to intricately and finely sharpen the edge of the knife. It is loud, it is heated, little tiny pieces of metal fly off… but the result of that fine grinding is that it leaves a sharper, more useful, more effective, even more beautiful knife behind.
So as I think about these practical things that I can visualize and even experience with metals in my life, how can I apply these principals here to this oft-quoted Proverb?
It is true that to be friends, you do not need to be exactly on the same page, every page of your book; in fact, it is often true that having friends who have different experiences or even different convictions can be sharpening in various ways. We need to lovingly challenge one another to grow and mature into Christ…
…leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection…
…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
…and oftentimes this loving challenge of one another involves chipping away at one another, sometimes with heat and sparks, perhaps sometimes even with words that feel like they pit you between an anvil and a hammer. Much wisdom is required to know whether this pounding, this heat, this grinding, is bending you, forming you, chipping you, sharpening you in the right direction ~ or not.
If we are seeking to further the Kingdom of God, we want to be sharp, effective, beautifully cutting to the heart of the matter especially when it comes to mutually encouraging the brethren toward love and good deeds. As I read in a little article on the subject, if a knife becomes blunt, it still continues to be a knife, it is simply a less beautiful, effective, sharp knife. It becomes difficult to deal with. It cuts through things (eventually), but not cleanly, smoothly, easily. I end up sawing, hacking, damaging in the process. If I want to be an effective blade for God’s Kingdom, using the true double-edged sword of His Word (Hebrews 4:12), I need to be sharpened in order to be sharp. I need to put myself out there to receive the sharpening of God’s Word, and I need to seek wisdom on which direction I am being ground and hammered so that I will be sharpened toward a more effective Gospel life.
But what does this sharpening feel like? Is it always easy? Well, I imagine that having the dullness rubbed, ground, and hacked off of me is not supposed to always feel easy. Sometimes it may seem like a massaging into my faith muscles, but sometimes it may seem more like a knife digging out sin or blindness pustules. It is true that the New Testament is full of descriptions of how the Body of Christ should relate to one another, and we can not avoid the truth that when speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), the truth may sometimes be painful and sharp. When I sharpen iron with someone, it should not surprise me if a conversation gets heated, if sparks fly, if anvil & hammer are even needed. But the point is not the heat, the spark, the hammering: the point is effective, wise work. The final word is not the sharpening process: the final word is the beautiful grace of sharpness.
As I continue to think about this, I go back to this post on the subject where I read about what Proverbs 27:17 doesn’t mean ~ because in figuring out what something does mean, it is often profitable to study what it does not mean. One thing this blogger says is “I need friends whose wisdom, whose willingness to say difficult things, or whose different perspectives will provide the grit with which God can sand my dull edges.” I love that thought: that we need Christians around us who will provide the grit for God to use as our sandpaper. We have dull edges, and they can’t stay that way! We need sanctifying resistance, as she said.
So what does this mean to me? What does it mean to you?
How can I apply these thoughts and principals in my friendships? In my marriage? In my parenting? In my church community?
My personal prayer is that the Lord would grant me the wisdom to not only be a sharpener, but to receive sharpening with grace. May I not chafe under the heat, the hammering, the flying sparks, the painful bending when they come by the wisdom and grace of God; may He give me the wisdom to have the strength and stability of iron, also, when I need to resist hammering and chipping in the wrong direction. May I both give and receive the blessing of sharpening edges unto the further glory of God and the further expanse of His Kingdom. May grace and Gospel come before, fill up, overflow, and end every instance of sharpening that I give and receive, so that these things would be done in the manner of Christ, where grace abounds and love covers a multitude of sins.
2 Timothy 2:1
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power,that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
…And of course this then brings up, HOW did Jesus love His people? And what kind of love is it that He wants us to use in loving one another so that the world will see us as His disciples, and see Him through us? Well, I would briefly say that, as one of my former pastors has said, using the common method of going through 1 Corinthians 13 and inserting “Jesus” in the place of “love” each time it is mentioned would give us a good idea… and yes, that would imply that there are times when heat, sparks, grinding, rubbing, sharpening is necessary…
But that just may be another musing for another time.
Grace and peace and joy be yours in abundance, and may you sharpen iron together with Christians around you for the glory of God and for the furtherance of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.