Iron Sharpens Iron (Proverbs 27:17)


When we as Christians find ourselves in a heated debate within the church, sometimes the discussion becomes harsh. At that point, someone inevitably says, “Oh, it’s just iron sharpening iron. Sparks will fly when that happens.”

But is that really what Proverbs 27:17 says? “Just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

The word “sharpens”, in this context, means to become intellectually sharp and alert. In other words, this is describing a quick, penetrating mind. “Iron” refers to harshness, strength, or oppression.

So we could read Proverbs 27:17 as “just as harshness sharpens harshness, strength sharpens strength, oppression sharpens oppression; so one man sharpens another.”

Too often we see this don’t we? Harshness sharpens harshness when disagreements arise among Christians. Some may think they are “sharpening” in a good way, when they are actually grinding others down.

Sometimes, we mistake the forging process with the sharpening process. When a sword is forged, the metal goes through a rather violent process of being melted down and beaten until it becomes the weapon the creator desires. But sharpening is much more careful and less aggressive. It requires a less vigorous, more detailed touch. Sharpening cannot be done sloppily, because a poor job can ruin the blade’s edge.

God’s word is our sword (Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17) and while scripture has a lot to say about preparing and training for battle, this is in the context of fighting the enemy, not each other in the body of Christ.

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

True iron sharpening iron happens when we encourage each other to become stronger and smarter in spiritual matters and scripture. It is strength building up strength, keen spiritual minds encouraging other keen spiritual minds, even when there isn’t complete agreement.

Let us strive to carefully sharpen each other, not harshly pound and forge in anger or oppression.

Check out an earlier post by Cindy here.