“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
I imagine the heavy clash of swords when it comes to this proverb, but it’s really not what the verse is speaking of, sure the metaphor speaks more of an axe with a keen edge but intrinsically it is pointing to relationship.
In terms of sheer performance in the old days, iron swords offered a slight improvement over its bronze counterpart as they were slightly stronger, making them less likely to break or bend during use and fittingly for our verse at hand here, iron becomes harder the more times it is worked on and repaired. In Solomon’s days, iron was a valuable and important metal, particularly in the Middle East, where this proverb was written. Iron was predominantly used for weapons, tools, and construction and it was known for its strength, durability, and… ability to be sharpened.
When Solomon wrote his 10-word proverb in the Hebrew, he was applying wisdom to something that could impact the life of everyone who heard the proverb. It’s not a throw-away comment. At the core of this proverb is the idea that when we surround ourselves with others who challenge us, push us, and hold us accountable, we become better versions of ourselves. It’s like an upgrade. Just like a sword becomes sharper and stronger with use, we become sharper and stronger when we are in a relationship with others who sharpen us.
In today’s world, it can be easy to isolate ourselves and go through life alone, but the truth is that we were never meant to live life that way. We were created for relationships. That’s why God it that we enjoy food and singing. It is in the context of relationships that we experience growth, transformation, and deep fulfilment. The irony of life here, is we get stronger through vulnerability! Perhaps there is a challenge also to consider, that without those interactions that we might become less than sharp in both our thoughts and convictions. Blunt. And dull.
I’m not even sure that this proverb-verse is speaking of a 1-to-1 relationship, instead I think it means whoever we relate to in fellowship has the potential of allowing people in our lives to speak into our lives, and shows the value learning from one another. When we surround ourselves with others who are strong in areas where we are weak, we can learn from them and grow in ways that we could never do on our own. For me I have someone in mind where I want to sharpen their prophetic gifting in exchange for them to sharpen my ability to be tolerant and nice!
It’s a reminder that we were never meant to go through life alone. We need others in our lives who can challenge us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.
What does this proverb mean to us in practical terms, making it more than a nice platitude?
The importance of accountability
Accountability comes directly off the shelf as a top characteristic in life and ministry. The importance of accountability in relationships cannot be overstated. Accountability means taking responsibility for one’s actions and being answerable to others for those actions. When we surround ourselves with people who hold us accountable, we are more likely to stay focused on our goals and avoid behaviours that could derail us – giving us a train-wreck free zone!
It applies to finance too, if you will. Even in the context of personal finances, accountability can be extremely helpful. Many people struggle with managing their money effectively, whether it’s because of overspending, poor budgeting or other financial challenges. Someone displaying a sharp edge in this area is such an encouragement. When we have someone to advise us or hold us accountable for our financial decisions, we are more likely to make better choices and avoid debt and other financial pitfalls. These things don’t come easily to everyone.
In real-life terms this accountability can take many forms. For example, it could mean having a friend who checks in on our spending habits and helps us stay on budget. It could also mean working with a financial advisor or someone from a debt advice ministry who helps us set financial goals and holds us accountable for reaching them. In some cases, accountability may even come from within our own families, as we work together to build a secure financial future. Whatever form it takes, accountability is an essential part of building strong, healthy and lasting relationships.
The role of conflict
The role of conflict in sharpening one another is an essential aspect to consider when understanding how iron sharpens iron.
God is honing, pruning and fashioning us. Conflict occurs when two or more people have different goals, limited resources, or face obstacles from others that prevent them from achieving what they want. We want one thing — they want another — that’s often life! When we’re in a relationship with someone who challenges us, it’s natural for there to be some friction or tension as we work through our differences. This is because we are all unique individuals with our own beliefs, values, and experiences that shape our perspectives on the world. Conflict can arise when these differences clash, and we find ourselves at odds with each other. However, conflict can also be an excellent opportunity for growth and learning, especially as we see the truth that all things work together for our good. God is honing, pruning and fashioning us.
When we approach others with an open mind and a willingness to learn from one another, we can emerge from them stronger and more united than before. This means being willing to listen to the other person’s perspective, acknowledging their feelings, and seeking to understand their point of view. It’s called home-groups! It also means being willing to express our own thoughts and feelings in a respectful and encouraging way. By engaging in such relationships, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and others, develop better communication skills and strengthen our relationships. We can also learn to appreciate the value of diversity in our relationships, and how different perspectives can enrich our lives and broaden our horizons.
The importance of diversity
Diversity is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always a delicious surprise! The importance of diversity in relationships is rooted in the idea that we all have our own unique experiences and odd perspectives that shape how we see the world. The distortions of life are what we have grown up with and take time for us to get adjusted to any correction. When we interact with different people from us, we are exposed to remarkable new ways of thinking and being that challenge our assumptions and broaden our horizons. This can often lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of the world around us.
In practical terms, diversity in relationships means seeking out people in life who are different from us (and there is a church full of characters like this.) and by doing so, we can learn from their experiences and gain a more nuanced understanding of their perspectives.
The need for balance
The need for balance in the process of sharpening one another is an important aspect of this proverb. It emphasizes the idea that the process of improving ourselves through relationships should be reciprocal and not one-sided. It’s not just about receiving feedback and growing, but also about giving back and helping others to grow and improve. In friendship we offer emotional support and encouragement, as well as constructive criticism when necessary. This has to be done with a spirit of generosity and humility. This means being willing to both give and receive feedback, and recognizing that everyone has something to contribute. It’s not all about me and often means recognizing areas where we need to improve and allowing ourselves to be open to constructive criticism from others.
It’s two-way traffic – when we help others improve, we also improve ourselves and vice versa. This leads to deeper friendships, increased trust, and greater overall fulfilment in our relationships.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Are you at your best?
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. We can challenge ourselves and each other to be our best selves. It is important to constantly strive for improvement and growth in our Christian walk and in our personal lives (which are the same thing), and this can be achieved by surrounding ourselves with others who inspire and motivate us.
So ask yourself, are you at your best? If not, seek out challenges and surround yourself with fantastic people who will push you to be better. Embrace the challenge and watch yourself grow and grow and grow.