The book of Proverbs is jam packed with wisdom and advice about how to live a godly life. Not only does it teach us to live godly lives as individuals, but also as a community striving to help each other grow in our walks with God. Proverbs 27:17 tells us to sharpen each other: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When I think about this passage, I think about two iron rods rubbing together. As the friction increases, the heat between them increases, allowing them to create a spark between them. Although it may be uncomfortable for the rods to rub in that way, the spark that results, when fanned, becomes a flame that can’t be contained.
As the body of Christ, we forget that part of our job is to sharpen other brothers and sisters in Christ so that the flame in their hearts, put there by the Holy Spirit, continues to burn. And hopefully it will not be able to be contained in their lives. But in this non- judgmental, relative truth world in which we live makes this more and more difficult. Fear replaces caring concern to speak truth into each others’ lives. Fear keeps Christians from sharpening others.
It’s difficult to be someone who sharpens others, and perhaps even more difficult to find a trustworthy person to sharpen you. How do we find someone like that? These are the type of people you want to approach:
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What Does "Iron Sharpens Iron" Really Mean?
The expression “iron sharpens iron” is discussed in Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” There is a mutual advantage when you rub two iron edges together; the blades become sharper, causing the knives to become more effective in their ability. Similarly, the Scripture of God is a “double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), and it is with God's Word we are to sharpen one another—by holding each other accountable for our behavior and virtue.
The saying also means that we need continuous communion with one another, as mankind was not created for a solitary life. Evidently, this was understood by the clergy of the early church who dedicated themselves to teaching fellowship, communion, and prayer, all pursuits that presented opportunities for sharpening one another. In essence, "Iron Sharpens Iron" simply means that we make each other better people, especially when following the teachings of the Bible and pursuing virtue as our ultimate intent.
9 Ways to Sharpen Others as "Iron Sharpens Iron"
The person must drink spiritual milk
1 Peter 2:1-3 says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Someone caught up with worldly pleasures is not going to be a good influence. However, you want to find someone who is actively growing in his/her faith. Although no one is perfect when it comes to their spiritual journey, you should at least recognize a difference in the person you choose to let sharpen you.
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The person must not be a recent convert
Find someone who has been seeking the Lord for a few years, not someone who has just accepted the Lord. 1 Timothy 3:6 says, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Recent converts are not familiar enough with the Word to practically apply it to his life, allowing his heart to be filled with pride at being elevated to such a high position. Choose someone who is in tune with the Spirit enough to guide you in the right path.
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The person must be attached to the vine
People attached to God are receiving their nutrients from the source of life and are watering the spiritual seeds planted at conversion. The person you see the most love, joy, peace and patience and other fruits of the Spirit is probably a good candidate to enter into a deeper spiritual relationship.
Now that you have learned from someone who is regularly sharpening himself, how do you become the person who sharpens others in return?
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Be the person who speaks the truth in love
The best gifts in your life come from the people who care enough to boldly speak the truth in love in your life. Although it is not easy to hear, it will help you grow. Ephesians 4:15 is clear: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Growth doesn’t happen unless we prune the branches. Fruit doesn’t grow unless the vine is attached to water and nutrients. It’s easy to fill ourselves with encouraging words that make us feel good; but it is the hard words that we take and apply that allows transformation and growth.
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Be the person who matures in her faith
You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t sharpen unless you are being sharpened yourself. Be fluent in the word of God, so that when a less mature Christian needs wisdom, it is on the tip of your tongue. Be in communion with God, both talking and listening to Him, so that when someone needs to know what God is saying, you can guide them to hear from Him. Paul told Timothy to be an example for the believers. Likewise, be an example for those around you.
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Be the person who practices spiritual disciplines
One way to be sharp yourself is to engage in practices that help you grow. Spiritual disciplines aren’t often spoken about among the Church, yet they are key components in your maturity. Reading the word and praying are great disciplines for getting alone with God and hearing from Him. Periodic fasting and relying on God for your spiritual nourishment will bring allow you to depend on God in new ways you never imagined. Memorizing scripture will help you keep the word hidden in your heart for when temptation arises. Then you will be able to remind yourself of the word quickly. We need to practice spiritual disciplines and rely on God to live well in this ungodly world.
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Be the person who is being held accountable
I’ve heard it said that accountability is being held accountable for your abilities. Not only does it matter what you do in this life, but also what you don’t do. Your walk with God will be impeded when you fail to act in a situation when doing the right thing was clear, or you act in fear rather than in boldness. How can you sharpen others if fear rules your life? Those rods cannot sharpen unless they are being sharpened in return. Be someone who knows wise counsel when she sees it. Seek help when you need it and know that you will always have more to learn in the Christian life.
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Be the person who is above reproach
1 Timothy 3:12 says, “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”
You don’t have to have a leadership position in your church to be a leader in people’s lives. But to lead, you must be above reproach. No one is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for God’s standards. After all, He gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to walk the difficult walk of faithfulness.
Be the person whose life will be without blemish before the Lord. Don’t give yourself over to lustful pleasures. Be abundant in the fruits of the Spirit. Put God before the temporary things in life, and you will be ready to be the person who sharpens others.
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Be the person who is a part of the Vine
Church attendance is a must, but so is meeting a deep need for connection and community. I believe one of the unique ways the Church shines in the world is because it meets the need for connection and community more than anywhere else. People find their sense of purpose and place themselves in a position to serve in the church.
The process of finding someone and sharpening others in return can be difficult. But it’s worth it if both parties receive spiritual benefit that moves them towards Christ.
Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. Winner of the Golden Scroll Children's Book of the Year, the Enduring Light Silver Medal and the Maxwell Award, she is a member of the Christian Author's Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She is also an associate literary agent with Wordwise Media Services. For more information, please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.
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Originally published Wednesday, 20 June 2018.