“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Twice in the past week two people have quoted this verse to me and pointed out the reality of iron sharpening iron. This verse, which is often quoted in sermons, article and books, is often used in reference to people spending time together in a connect group or in fellowship together. “How can we grow together unless we spend time together, after all, iron sharpens iron…” We often think in terms of rubbing off on each other—sharing the good things with each other.
What we fail to focus on is that when iron sharpens iron, friction occurs and sparks fly. The truth is, iron sharpening iron is not always a pleasant experience. People disagree with you. People get upset with each other and sparks fly. Things are sometime said that shouldn’t be said—or in a manner or tone that is less than graceful. Tempers can raise, voices can raise, friction occurs and sparks fly. And this is what the Scripture is telling us. These things are part of growing together in grace and truth.
Relationships are important for many reasons. They help fill a basic human need and they give us opportunity to love and share life with others. Relationships without friction and sparks might not be as healthy as one might think. It may surprise some to hear that Cheryl and I have disagreements. (Tongue firmly implanted in cheek.) She is not a mini-me and I am not a mini-her. We are two different people with different backgrounds, who grew up in different environments, who had different learning experiences and who—hold your breath—have different opinions about things. As a result, in some of our discussions friction occurs and sparks fly. And not every disagreement ends in perfect peace, we simply agree to disagree. However, and this is vital, we choose to not be disagreeable. There is a significant difference. Our goal is to love each other, to grow in our marriage, to understand each other better. Neither one of us is disagreeable—defined as being unfriendly and bad tempered. In our 36 years of marriage we have experienced iron sharpening iron, and I can say with conviction that I love Cheryl much more now than I did when we first married; she can say the same.
There are two other verses in Proverbs 27 that reinforce this principle.
- “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (Verse 5)
- “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Verse 6)
Healthy relationships grow when we listen and seek to understand why someone disagrees—when we focus on the other rather than on the disagreement. Relationships grow when we try to see things from another’s point of view and choose to not be offended when someone doesn’t immediately agree with us or struggles to understand our point of view.
I would suggest that God is never put off when we disagree—and let’s be honest, we often do. Why didn’t you heal this person? Why didn’t you answer that prayer? Why didn’t I get that job? God, I disagree with your decision. God, I wish you weren’t so far removed from me. God, why don’t you take care of these people who bother me? God why aren’t you more involved?
The Psalms are full of David asking those very questions of God. God why didn’t you.., why won’t you…, why aren’t you… These questions don’t bother God because they are part of the friction of iron sharpening iron. David might not agree, we might not agree, but we are not being disagreeable.
And here’s the key: When it comes to our relationship with Father, Son and Sprit, God is always the one doing the sharpening. But notice, he does it by becoming like us. He becomes the iron that will sharpen us. He rubs off on us. He seeks to make us stronger, sharper, better. And while some of that sharpening causes friction, and there are sparks, we know the end result is good. In the end, we are sharpened into what God intends us to be.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me enough to not be concerned about the friction and the sparks in our relationship. Thank you for dedicating yourself to mold me into whatever it is you want me to be. Thank you for putting up with my disagreements, and patiently helping me see things your way and to trust you. I may not like the friction and the sparks, but I know they are the result of your unconditional love. Thank you!
Regional Director USA, North Central