In Proverbs 27:17 we are told that “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” A quick reading of that proverb may make us think that it is a license to correct others in the Body of Christ. But if we meditate on it, the implications are more profound.
The first thing we notice is that it implies a great deal of personal responsibility. We must be that iron that can sharpen iron. We do not possess that quality when we are called or at baptism. It is something we develop over time as we build a relationship with God and study His Word. We must work to become iron—daily.
Iron sharpens iron is about bringing clarity from God’s Word. But there are two sides to that. Certainly, it means helping others apply God’s Word when in the heat of the moment it is not as clear to them as it should be. It is easy to let relativism and other compromises creep into our thinking when we are trying to solve a problem on our own. We all need advice and coaching from time to time. Iron sharpens iron points people back to God.
At the same time, and perhaps more importantly and more frequently in practice, iron sharpens iron encourages. It seeks out and points to what others are doing right. It notices when people are applying God’s Word in their lives and points out the example they are to you and others. That kind of encouragement strengthens others and builds unity.
Before we even think about sharpening anything, we need to do the prep work. Iron sharpens iron implies that we have strong, positive relationships with others in the Body of Christ. The Bible is full of laws that govern relationships that are the precursor to any intervention. Other Proverbs speak to us about having emotional intelligence, not the least of which is hearing a matter before we do any sharpening. We should listen before we speak.
Nothing sharpens another like a good example. We build the Body one person at a time by focusing on ourselves first. When we are working to become iron, we help others to do the same. We sharpen each other through living the expectations found in the Word of God. Not letting any member fall behind—to strengthen the whole.
This is also supported by Paul’s instructions to the Philippians. He wrote in Philippians 2, beginning in verse 2, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Iron sharpening iron looks like that. It comes from humility. It’s not about being right or theological debates. It’s about esteeming others. Catching them doing something right. Looking out for others and coaching them along. The end result is what Paul described: a Body that is like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
The end goal of iron sharpening iron is to build a community of like-minded individuals who genuinely care about each other and the outcome of the whole Body.