From the September/October 2022 issue of Discern Magazine

As Iron Sharpens Iron

How do we become, and remain, spiritually sharp Christians? God’s Word and Jesus Christ’s example show us what it takes to remain sharp.

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God’s Holy Word—the Bible—is a treasure trove of lessons, guidelines, quotes and instructions we can use to direct our lives.

One passage that I believe is important to our Christianity is Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Or, as the New International Version translates it, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

This relatively short verse has a great deal to say when it comes to understanding how we should move forward in our Christianity. It also speaks volumes about what we need to consider when determining the type of influence we have on others, and the influence they have on us.

The concept of sharpening iron

This analogy is based on a practice that can be traced back to the iron age of civilization. When iron began being used and, more specifically, forged into tools and weapons, processes were developed to use it effectively.

Let’s consider two aspects of working with iron that relate to the analogy of “iron sharpening iron”:

1. The forging process

When an iron tool or weapon was forged, the raw iron was heated to temperatures that allowed the iron to become malleable. Once it was hot enough, the iron was beaten with an iron hammer. The striking of the iron hammer on the heated iron allowed it to develop an edge, through a process of hammering, folding, cooling, reheating and continued hammering. If the iron was worked properly through this forging process, it could become sharp. It took repetitive striking by the iron hammer to forge the iron tool or weapon.

2. The maintenance process

After iron instruments like swords were forged, it seems the edges of two instruments were rubbed together in order to sharpen each other. While historical records of this are difficult to locate, the passage seems to indicate this was a known practice. To maintain a sharp edge, a sword, knife or other sharp iron instrument was rubbed against another iron object.

Being forged

As Christians, we should hold ourselves to God’s standards by acknowledging God as our Heavenly Father, Christ as the firstborn Son of God, and the testimony of God as the foundation for how we conduct our lives (Psalm 111:10).

We also know from Scripture that being a Christian comes with responsibilities. We’re told that while we’re waiting for the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we should be performing the work God has given us to do as faithful and wise servants (Matthew 24:46).

We’re instructed in 1 Corinthians 3:13 that “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

To hold ourselves to God’s standards is to be forged by His fire. Just as iron is heated to become malleable and then molded, we, too, are heated and molded by God’s fire—His Word—bending and conforming us to God’s will. We’re reminded of this by Jeremiah 23:29: “‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the LORD, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’”

In a way, the Bible is like a forging hammer. It’s the instrument we use to press out the impurities—to reveal God’s truths and our sins in order to then be sharpened spiritually. Without the use of God’s Word, we cannot be forged into an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6:13).

Remaining spiritually sharp

We’ve all most likely heard it said, “If you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people.” Or a variation of this: “If you wish to be happy, surround yourself with happy people.”

There is a great deal of truth in these two sayings, so it should come as no surprise that God came up with this concept long before man’s variations. Perhaps a version of these quotes inspired by Proverbs 27:17 would go something like: “If you want to be spiritually sharp, surround yourself with spiritually sharp people.”

This isn’t to say that a person cannot become spiritually sharp on his or her own when necessary. However, there are obvious benefits to sharing a task with someone of like mind. God’s Word instructs us in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.”

If we hope to remain spiritually sharp in this world that is so very good at dulling us, we must surround ourselves with those who are also spiritually sharp.If we find ourselves struggling to remain spiritually sharp, it can be wise to seek out those in our lives who are spiritually sharp themselves. We can converse with them, discuss Scripture, maybe have a joint Bible study, or perhaps even let them know the areas where we’re beginning to feel spiritually dull and where they can be a help to us. Or maybe we can be that sharpened edge for someone else.

Regardless of where we are in our own level of spiritual growth, we can benefit from others who are spiritually sharp, just as we should strive to benefit others. God recognizes the value of His people having this type of relationship with one another (Malachi 3:16).

Dull or sharp—does it matter?

There are times when we may find ourselves surrounded by those who might not be as spiritually sharp as others. We may be in a situation where the people around us put little to no emphasis on their own or our spiritual condition.

If this is the case, it’s critical that we evaluate the situation we’re in and determine whether or not these people are the type of people we should allow to influence us. God instructs us to keep immoral and unrighteous people at bay. A Christian is instructed to avoid close friendship with this type of person (1 Corinthians 5:11).

If our situation requires us to have an unrighteous person in our lives, for instance a family member or coworker, it becomes even more important to try to incorporate others who are spiritually sharp into our lives as often as possible. We can find strength in difficult situations when we have others who are spiritually sharp beside us (1 Samuel 23:16).

Sharpen one another

It’s a blessing to know we have God’s Word as a guide for all aspects of our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And it’s our responsibility to use the Bible as a tool to sharpen ourselves spiritually. Yet we should also remember that there are other members in the Body of Christ. The Church of God is a body of believers! It’s important that we come together as one body and grow in unity—develop as one.

Even when we are not with the entire body, there is still sharpening that can take place when just a couple of believers make time to spend together.

Christ knew it would be important, as time went on and life became more and more difficult, for His followers—Christians—to remain unified. He understood that we would need one another in order to remain sharp. This is why the instructions were written that we “consider one another to stir up love and good works,” and why we’re told to not forsake assembling together (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Stay sharp

For one iron instrument to sharpen another instrument, they must be rubbed together. And not only do they need to be together, but they both need to have been sharpened previously.

We’re forged by the Word of God. We’re developed into spiritually sharp Christians by reading, understanding and following God’s testimonies, commands, instructions and statutes, and by using the examples of Jesus Christ as our guide for all we do. Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s Word as a very sharp instrument!

Yet we also need one another. We benefit from the righteousness of others around us, and we remain sharp by interacting with those who are also spiritually sharp. We do this through fellowship, meetings, Bible studies, meaningful one-on-one conversations about God and His Word, and other interactions we may have with those of like spiritual mind.

If we hope to remain spiritually sharp in this world that is so very good at dulling us, we must surround ourselves with those who are also spiritually sharp. Because, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

About the Author

David Hicks

David Hicks

David Hicks is the managing editor, graphic designer and a contributing writer for Discern magazine. He’s also the managing editor and designer for booklets produced by Life, Hope & Truth, as well as One Accord—a newsletter for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in McKinney, Texas. In addition, he provides graphics and illustrations for other areas of need within the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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