“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 CSB
Knife sharpening, according to Wikipedia, is the process of making a knife sharp by grinding against a hard, rough surface, typically a stone, or a flexible surface with hard particles, such as sandpaper. In the same way, when iron rubs against iron, the friction it produces sharpens iron, both pieces, not just one. Sharpening a blade is not easy work, it causes friction, sparks can fly, there is nothing about the process that is smooth sailing. Sharpening takes time, it takes more than one swipe to sharpen iron, the motion has to be repeated over and over again. The same happens with people, sharpening means having difficult conversations over time, done in love, with gentle persistence.
We often read this verse and gloss over it. We think of it as rubbing up against someone once or twice and it having an effect on us. There is no doubt, one encounter with a person can change the course of someone’s life, but that isn’t normally how it happens. When two people sharpen each other, it’s typically a long drawn out process. If we are truly to sharpen each other, it takes persistence in the friendship. For instance, I’ve known Heather for about three years now. When we first met, we didn’t have the friendship we have today. Our first conversation wasn’t nearly as deep as the conversations we have now. We have sharpened each other in the time since we met, but it has been a slow sharpening, it’s a continual sharpening that happens every time we’re together. The more honest and transparent we are with each other, the more our friendship deepens and grows, the more we are sharpened.
If you notice in the definition above, sandpaper is used in the process of sharpening the knife. Over and over again, the rough edges are rubbed against the knife to sharpen it. If you have ever rubbed your hand across sandpaper, you know it’s not a good feeling. In fact, if you rub your skin long enough with the paper, it will take off the layers of skin and cause you to bleed. But in the end the knife is better for it. In the same way, conversations between friends can be like sandpaper sharpening the knife. Friendships that sharpen people are not easy, they can definitely rub you the wrong way, they are full of truths you need to hear, but don’t want to hear. When we have conversations like these, done in love, by a persistent, loving friend, they will change us. These life giving conversations will allow the truth into our lives and uncover areas we need sharpened. We can allow the sharpening because we know it’s done in love, by a friend. These conversations happen over time, not too much at once, just enough, slowly and persistently. Iron sharpening iron, friends sharpening friends.