“As Iron Sharpens Iron”
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We serve several companies that work with metal. We see laser cutting, welding, huge brakes and presses and many types of machining tools. The tools in these machines require tool steel which is harder than the steel piece being manufactured.
All through human history, since Tubal-Cain began to forge bronze and iron (Genesis 4:22), people have worked with metals. Coincidentally, one of the saddest verses in the Bible is about a trouble-making metalworker in Paul’s final chapter, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm” (2 Timothy 4:14).
In contrast to Alexander’s trouble-making spirit let us consider how we may do good to others using a metal illustration found in the Proverbs! “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This verse is a favorite among men (although the principle also works for women).
As is the case with many of the Proverbs there is nothing in the immediate context to further clarify the author’s intended meaning. The Holman Study Bible notes, “As a file sharpens an ax or a sharpening steel a carving knife, good friends encourage one another to grow in wisdom and godliness, even if it requires painful criticism”.
The Life Application Bible has this note,
Hebrews 10:24 expresses a similar concept, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Well, in the spiritual sense we would like to spur you on today! The word “spur” translates a very rare Greek word (paroxusmos) found elsewhere in the NT only in Acts 15:39 where it describes the contention between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark, “The contention was so sharp between them”. Tracing the roots of this word we find it comes from two words with the sense “to sharpen alongside”. The writer of Hebrews uses it here in a positive sense to describe an essential Christian responsibility. We need to come alongside one another to keep each other sharp! The NASV uses “stimulate” and the KJV “provoke.” The New Living Translation states, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”
I’ve been sharpened over the years by thoughtful friends in Christ as well as those who have led by example. I hope I’ve been a sharpener as well when I could spur another on by my words, preceded by a sensitive spirit and prayerful attitude. It’s encouraging to hear years later an individual express how something I’ve said either in a sermon or to them personally had a lasting sharpening impact.
The sharpening itself may be thought-provoking and at times even painful, but in the end I am stronger and better for it. Sadly, for the sake of a surface unity and mushy love, we may neglect this sharpening task and seek to avoid it, whether we’re the one sharpening or the one being sharpened.
This sharpening process may take place at home, at work or in church. It may be through an accountability partner. You just might meet up with a sharpening friend today. How you react is a real test of character as God often uses other people to mold His character into our lives.