I don’t regularly sharpen my knives. I know I should, but I just don’t for some reason. I love to cook, and I have a favorite knife that I use for basically everything I cut in the kitchen. I find chopping vegetables to be very therapeutic, and I like to do them all by hand–no food processor or chopper for me. I also enjoy grating cheese by hand. Call me when you need help for your next party! 🙂
I would really be able to do the job I want to in the kitchen a lot better if I stopped and sharpened my tool, though. A knife’s job is to cut. For it to do its job well, it needs to be sharp and ready for use.
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Sometimes I’ve had a limited scope of what it means to sharpen or be sharpened. On the surface, it always meant that we should encourage each other, that we should have fellowship and that we should lift each other up. And this edification is Biblical, but the context of this verse isn’t necessarily just positive and encouraging–we should look a bit deeper.
The picture of iron being rubbed against iron evokes a picture of discomfort, pain, provocation. It’s beneficial, but the process can be difficult. The verse could have said that we should polish iron. That might conjure a picture of a soft cotton cloth polishing iron to a lovely metallic shine, but the responsibility goes beyond that–to sharpen.
As I’ve been thinking about iron and trying to suss out what it looks like in the context of Proverbs 27:17, I looked at the physical properties of iron to see if I could gain some insight. Iron has some very interesting physical properties that I think we can apply as we sharpen and are sharpened.
Capable of being bent, shaped, and stretched without breaking.
This property of iron is so interesting! Capable of being bent, shaped, and stretched without breaking. On the heels of the revelation that sharpening might be painful or uncomfortable, I am comforted by this property of iron.
I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10:14-15
Jesus knows His sheep, far better than we even know ourselves. We don’t have to fear being broken or overstretched when we are submitting to this sharpening process. John 10 says that Jesus knows us just as the Father knows Jesus. That’s complete and intimate knowledge…we can take refuge in that. We can rest then and surrender to this process.
Is easily magnetized.
Something that is magnetized has strongly magnetic properties that are always present but is only magnetized once it’s exposed to another substance’s magnetic field. Iron is easily magnetized. Almost as if it’s waiting to reach its full magnetic potential with the slightest hint of contact by another magnetic field. Are we willing and open to allow God to use others in our lives to sharpen us, or do we hover just out of reach of anyone’s influence? What could God accomplish through others if we were willing to be open and near enough to allow them to sharpen us?
Good transmission of heat or electricity.
Iron is a partner vessel–it can conduct heat and electricity. It doesn’t produce those things, but it can carry them from one place to another. As we’re looking at iron sharpening iron, we can swing the pendulum from only encouragement to only difficult confrontation or provocation. Iron can be a conductor too, though.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Romans 12:15-16
We can set our minds on others and be conductors. We can be present and share their griefs and triumphs. That takes discipline and fighting the sin of envy so that we can rejoice in something that maybe we don’t have — maybe even something we’ve prayed and wept over and begged God for in our own lives.
It also takes being willing to walk through hard things with others in their anguish–that’s just as hard. It’s easier to only rejoice with others based on our own feelings and avoid those in agony because “we don’t know what to say to them.” I’m there with you–I often find it difficult to find the right words for people who are suffering. I’d rather be able to offer solutions and fix their problems for them. And sometimes all you can do is pray for them, and offering an, “I’m praying for you” sometimes feels really lame. But you should do it anyway. I was recently given a great article on comforting the suffering if you want a further resource.
Non Toxic / Dissolves in acid.
For some people, it’s easy to be an iron sharpener. They have little trouble laying out the truth of a situation and letting others know areas they are dull in. And for others it’s nearly impossible to try to sharpen them because they are hypersensitive and one has to walk on eggshells … always. To both extremes, I say– STOP IT! Of course, I say that it love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 Jn 4:7-8
Iron is non-toxic and it dissolves in acid. We should be speaking the truth all around us at every opportunity–but it should be spoken in love. We must remember that God has had infinite grace with us in our lives and He is working to sanctify us minute by minute … and He’s doing the same thing for the person we’re looking in the eye and speaking to in truth. Remember that when you have an opportunity to sharpen someone … remember that you’re non-toxic (or at least you should be) and that the lump of iron across from you WILL dissolve in acid.
David would never raise a hand against Saul even when Saul was trying to kill him because Saul was God’s anointed and David respected that. But in 2 Samuel 16, Shimei cursed David who was the King then, and David told his men to just let Shimei curse him and that maybe God would turn it into a blessing. David defended God’s anointed even when he may have been fully justified in taking Saul out, but David didn’t defend himself as God’s anointed when he seemingly had every right to. He left it to God to sort out the details.
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Allow yourself to be bent and shaped and know you won’t break. Purposefully put yourself into the influence of other godly people and be a conductor of rejoicing and weeping. Sharpen some iron around you. Boldly speak truth in love. And if someone bumps a little hard against you, let God sort out the details.