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As Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
A vivid memory of mine as a little boy, is watching my great grandfather in the kitchen sharpen a knife with an iron file. Down on one side and back on the other the knife would go at the speed of light it seemed, until the sharpened edge glistened as if it were new again. I watched mezmorized by the constant motion, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Without skipping a beat, my great grandfather would continue the constant motion pausing every so often to check the sharpness of the blade. He would actually pluck a hair from his head and attempt to split it with the knife to determine when his mission was accomplished.

As I read this verse from Proverbs, this vivid memory returned to me as if it were yesterday. I pondered why the action of sharpening iron would be compared to a man developing and molding the character of another. How does iron sharpen iron anyway? When and why does a piece of iron need sharpened in the first place?

I think it is important to note that other materials are used to sharpen iron than just iron. Growing up on a farm, I often used a revovling sandstone to sharpen blades. Over time, I noticed how the sandstone would wear down and have to be replaced whereas an iron file that I also used upon occassion didn't. The principle is that one object can be used to make another object made of like material better without destroying or tearing down the other. So the Bible says it is best that a man be the object of edifying another man, and a woman to build up another woman. Many marriages have been compromised or destroyed by spouses who sought out counsel from a person of the opposite sex; a co-worker, a personal friend or an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.

When my great grandfather ran the blade down over the top of the iron file, he would slip the blade underneath the file to run the opposite side of the blade down the bottom side of the file. This way, the same side of the blade would consistently be run down the same direction of the file. To run it back up the opposite direction would be counterproductive to the task and would ruin the sharpened edge. Likewise, when a person comes along side another person, their instruction or advice must be consistent with God's Word and be constant, not an occassional compliment or words used to flatter the individual. There must be purpose in the action and that is to build up the person being sharpened, not to build up the one who is doing the sharpening. This is how and why an object is sharpened.
So why does an object need sharpened? The obvious answer is to restore it to it's original design to effectively accomplish it's intended purpose. God has blessed each of us with talents and gifts. Even more, He has bestowed upon His children spiritual gifts that are to be used to serve others in building up the body of Christ. When we conform to the ways of the world or suffer the wear and tear from the worries of this world, our sense and desire to serve others becomes dulled. We need to be restored to service by the loving rebuke, correction or support of a fellow follower of Christ; one with which we have an intimate relationship. This is called discipleship. In order for discipleship to take place there must be constant and consistent accountability; like the constant and consistent action of the blade against the file. But to the contrary, how many battle worn Christians are left on the shelf and out of service because there is no one willing to disciple them? Many churches today schedule many events, programs and activities to dispense information or to encourage fellowship but they lack personal and intentional accountability which can only come from building personal and intimate relationships. Environments are not created conducive to personal discipleship. Discipleship, one man sharpening another, is a repetitive process and can and should be repeated with intentionality if the church is really serious about it's mission to make disciples.

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