A pastor friend posted a picture of a group of people sitting at a table. They were eating in a nice restaurant and apparently had been talking about ministry. The caption they had placed with the picture was Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
I know the pastor meant no misrepresentation of scripture, but I am afraid that the quote lacks something. What they meant was clear. They enjoyed being around these people, and at the end of the day, they felt better about themselves. Encouragement is a beautiful thing that we all need on our journey of faith. Unfortunately, that is not iron sharpening iron.
My view of this verse changed when I watched a TV show called “Forged in Fire.” It is another semi-reality based show where people compete at making the best blade as directed by the judges. Each round, one of the four competitors are eliminated until one of them wins $10,000. Watching this was the first time I had ever seen someone make knives and blades inside a forge. The process was more intense than I had imagined.
If you have done this work or seen it done, then you know the steps involved. There is the choice of a metal. Cutting and shaping come next. They then heat it until the metal is red hot and take a large hammer and pound the piece into shape. They heat it repeatedly before returning to the anvil to thrash that metal into a sharp blade. Finally, they quench the blade and harden the steel so that it can be used without failure.
I am sure the writer of this Proverb knew the process. He had watched a blacksmith mold and shape metal and knew the amount of heat, hammering, and work that went into making a single blade. With that in mind, he says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In his words, I really do not think he envisioned a group of people sitting around a table stuffing themselves on chips and salsa, and neither should you.
Molding the iron in people takes intensity, confrontation, and repeated work. That means we need someone willing to ask us the hard questions. We need someone willing to see past our lies and excuses and push us toward change. We need conversations that can be intense but force us to think through our stubborn behavior. If we want to be genuinely sharpened by others, we better not settle for happy encounters where no one is ever offended. The truth can be harsh and painful, but that is what most of us desperately need. All of us need someone who can be the iron that shapes our lives but know it will not often come with an enjoyable meal in a nice restaurant.