I need you. And I am not being arrogant when I say you need me. There it is. We need each other.
The idea of iron sharpening iron comes from Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This can be a life-giving, extremely important principle for our lives. To be so, it needs to be seen as circular in nature. In my experience it is too often misused, and, in these cases, the principle becomes demeaning and hurtful.
Being circular, the most important aspect of this principle is that iron (a human) is on both sides of the equation. That being the case, when our relationships are properly in synch, we sharpen each other. It is destructive when someone uses this verse to point out someone else’s fault in the hopes of doing them a favor, with no understanding that they are also iron and therefore need to be (in fact, will be) sharpened in the process. The result of this misuse? Strained relationships, abuse, and oppression which leads to lack of trust, and sadly, humans that are unwilling to stay involved in relationship with others that differ from them.
A relationship is not one way; by its very definition it involves “connecting or binding participants” (Merriam Webster.com). The key to living this principle of iron sharpening iron is to be in relationship with humans that are different from us in some, even many, way(s). If you find yourself interacting with someone without seeking the connection (I often use the term common ground) then you are merely on a soapbox. When on a soapbox not only are you not sharpening anyone, but you are also not being sharpened. Instead, you are being demeaning and hurtful. No one benefits.
Accountability is often a term we use associated with the concept of Proverbs 27:17. Accountability is critical and can be beautiful. But again, in my experience, it often fails to hit its intended mark. I see two reasons why this is the case:
First, all too often we surround ourselves with people who believe what we do, look like we do, act like we do and think like we do – somehow expecting they are going to be able to correctly see our faults. But we end up missing each other’s faults because we are blind to our own.
Second, due to a lack of trust, we find ourselves unwilling to be completely honest with people we are asking to hold us accountable. Lying to others is akin to lying to yourself, and no growth will occur.
For me, it took a while, but I eventually realized that if people don’t believe what I believe, it is completely unfair of me to expect they are going to act like I act. And, of course, there is the fact that not even I act in accordance with what I believe 100% of the time. So, let’s give each other a break, build trust, and go about the business of sharpening one another.
Being sharpened can come in the form of recognizing a fault and correcting it. It can also be a refinement of a strength that can be used to improve your future interactions with other humans.
Disagree with me on any of this? Comment, respectfully, and let’s get sharpened!