Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (NIV)"
What does this proverb mean? When was this written? It was written during the Iron Age in the Middle East. Iron was not very pure at that time but contained other metals, such as nickel and copper, as well as carbon. Steel is iron with a certain proportion of carbon (between 0.2% and 2.1%). Pure iron is soft and carbon steel can be as much as 1000 times harder than iron. Iron in those days contained varying amounts of impurities and was of different strengths. Sharpening is defined as the process of creating or refining a sharp edge to an appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. Sharpening is done by grinding away material on the tool with another abrasive substance harder than the tool itself. This is sometimes followed by a process to polish the sharp surface, increasing smoothness and correcting small mechanical deformations without regrinding.
When one thing sharpens another, the substance on the sharpening surface must be harder than the material being sharpened, such as two different alloys of iron. In a similar manner, one man who is stronger in faith can sharpen another to help him become stronger. This can be in knowledge of the Word or in action and deed to become more like Christ. Hebrews 10:24 (NIV) expresses a similar concept, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (NIV)”
Very sharp knives sharpen at an angle of about 10 degrees (which implies that the knife's edge is a 20-degree angle). Material, iron in this case, is scraped off as the edge is made finer and more acutely angled to make the cutting edge of the sword or blade. This removing of the burrs refines the edge until it can easily cut through the toughest materials. In the same way bad habits and negative thoughts and actions are removed from our lives as we are sharpened by the encouragement and loving criticism of a fellow believer. Just as a blade may be polished to increase its ability to cut more cleanly, we may be polished by the support of another and more brightly reflect God's love shining in our lives.
In the sharpening of iron with iron, both pieces change — the sharpener and the one being sharpened. In the same manner our faith is strengthened when we test and encourage another. We must help each other to remain strong in the faith, able to defend the faith, even against the direct attack of the enemy. Just as the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to confirm the Word (Acts 17:11 (NIV)), we can sharpen one another by searching the scriptures together to understand God's Word.
Sharpen can also mean intensify or focus. The cutting edge of the blade is more intensely focused into a very fine line as it is sharpened and can cut more deeply. In the same way one person can intensify another's focus onto the things of God by sharpening his knowledge and understanding of the Word. The sharpening itself may be thought provoking and at times even painful, but in the end we are stronger and better for it. Warren Wiersbe observes, “If we’re not disagreeable, we usually learn more by disagreeing, ‘speaking the truth in love' Ephesians 4:15(NIV), than by giving in and refusing to say what we really think."
Likewise, friends ought to be able both to offer help and receive instruction. God's psychology insists that friends sharpen each other instead of tearing down. The Scripture gives many examples of God honoring communication between friends: "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:5-6 (NKJV)." We need to come to appreciate both the encouragement and the candid criticism from our friends, as well as their kindness and generosity. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3 (NKJV)"
The sharpening of iron by iron represents how God desires us to be in fellowship with each other to strengthen, encourage, instruct, support and sharpen our understanding of His love. Just as blades must continue to be sharpened to keep their sharp edge, so must we as Christians continue to study God's Word to stay focused in our walk with Him.
I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.
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