Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation (NLT)

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m not really sure why this single verse, this single idea, has been rattling around in my mind lately, but I’ve taken a week off from doing the blog, trying to regroup and refocus, and yet this is the phrase that keeps coming back.  So here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Iron –God uses a lot of imagery, analogy, parable, and metaphor throughout the Bible.  What does this image suggest?  Iron is hard.  Iron is used for tools and (in Bible times) weapons.  Iron is strong.  Iron is forged in the fire.  Iron being sharpened can bring out sparks.  Iron crafted by a master blacksmith can be forged, shaped, smoothed, hardened, and, yes, sharpened.

leaves ladder green looking up
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God calls us to be useful– light, salt, vessels, iron, hands–we have purpose; we have work to do during our time on earth.  Sometimes, that work calls for us to be steadfast, immovable– like iron.  But iron that is not being used can become brittle, or rusty, and lose its edge.

fence railing security barrier
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“Iron sharpens iron“– We don’t always use iron to sharpen iron– sometimes we use honing stones or grinding wheels or even strops.   But we don’t use cheese to sharpen iron– it won’t work.  We don’t sharpen it with paper or “positive energy” or a block of wood.  How are we staying “sharp”?  Do I make an effort to sharpen my skills, my knowledge, my service, my body, mind, and spirit?  Am I using the right method and materials to stay sharp?

Who or what do I turn to when I want sharpening?  Do I have friends who keep me accountable (and vice versa)?  Do I even WANT to stay sharpened and ready for service?  Or do I serve without guarding my edge until it becomes dull and useless?

Iron sharpens iron– but not always.  Sometimes iron blunts iron.  Sometimes it cuts away at it.  Sharpening is not accomplished by just banging pieces of iron together randomly.  There are circumstances, habits, people, or activities that try to chip away at my surface, that try to crush or bend or destroy.  There are others that are not made of iron; they cannot help me stay strong and sharp.  I need to be deliberate and careful about what and who I include in the sharpening process.  I also need to be as deliberate and as careful about who I “sharpen”.  We are here to live, and work, and build relationships together.  But I need to learn when and how to “sharpen” others in my life.  Otherwise, I can cause great damage to others and to my own soul.

black claw hammer on brown wooden plank
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What can I do to keep sharpened and help others stay sharp?

  • Pray.  I don’t have answers, I don’t have the power to stay sharp on my own.  But God is the one who can give us wisdom, power, and send us all we need (2 Peter 1:3)  Also, seek out a prayer partner or prayer group.
  • Get involved in Bible Study– seek out a Bible Study group or an on-line resource where you can ask questions, have meaningful discussions, and share insights.
black steel frame on wall
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  • Seek out “iron” friends– friends who will hold you accountable, who will offer support, but also share their own struggles.  We all have friends who fill one or the other of these roles, but seek out friends who are not merely takers or givers, but true brothers and sisters in the faith.
black chain
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  • Don’t run away from challenges, “tough” questions, and earnest discussions–that doesn’t mean that we need to get pulled into senseless arguments, either; but we are disciples— that’s the same root word as discipline!  We need to come out of our comfortable corners and exercise our faith.
antique armor black and white chrome
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As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend— such a short verse, but it’s packed with wisdom and promise.

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