I've heard it many times: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). For years, I have assumed this verse is about the mutual relationships between good friends. Friends who love each other. Laugh together. Actually like each other. Friends who had polite, deep, encouraging, stimulating, uplifting conversations.
Doesn't that sound great?
Don't get me wrong. This kind of friend is wonderful, and I am very blessed to have some of these friendships in my life. But on deeper thought, I don't think Solomon had my warm, inviting scenario in mind when he penned Proverbs 27:17.
The verse itself is very straightforward, but not very detailed: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” There are no qualifiers. The text doesn't call for people who are "equally yoked" or "equally mature," and it doesn't seem to be describing relationships that would be considered "mutually beneficial." Nope. Just "one man sharpens another." Any man sharpens any other? That's a broad brush.
Judging by the little I know about sharpening something, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a pleasant process. Sharpening is accomplished through constant pressure and a lot of friction. It causes heat and makes a terrible noise.
Is this how you would describe your relationship with your BFF?
Could it be that we are sharpened in every relationship? Is it possible that the annoying person who seems to follow you around - the one you've told yourself you are influencing for the better - is shaping you, too?
That guy who always misunderstands what you say, always challenges your points, or maybe just plain gets on your nerves – could he be sharpening you?It’s an interesting thought. What if the interruptions other people cause in our plans, the differences in others' personalities, and the many (but minor) inconveniences others bring our way...are all part of iron sharpening iron? After all, if any man sharpens any other, then maybe that pesky person you can’t avoid may be the sharpest sharpener in your life.
Day In and Day Out
Do you know how easy it would be for me to be kind when no one bothered me? Do you know how effortlessly I could be patient when no one messed up my plans? It would be so easy to be loving when there was no one to push the limits of that love.
But it would be empty.
I cannot be kind without being kind to someone. I cannot be patient without being patient with someone. And love has no meaning without an object of that love--a person.
An individual, made in the image of God, with their own desires, personality, strengths, weaknesses...and, yes, sin.
That would require kindness. Patience. Love.
Sometimes we are called to represent Christ to people who drive us crazy. We can't do it once per person or once a month and then check it off a list. We are called to represent Him wherever we are and whoever we are with, day in, day out, no matter how difficult the other person is. Day in and day out, others' grating attitudes or personal idiosyncrasies will often continue to eat at us.
Annoying, yes. But we'll be sharper for it.