If you take a look into blacksmithing during the Iron Age (which is approximately when this verse was written) you will discover that just one, small iron tool was used to shape and sharpen a blade: an iron file. I don’t know about you, but whenever I used to read Proverbs 27:17, I had never imagined a file. Instead, I pictured two iron blades dramatically sheering across one another to produce ever increasing sharpness.
But in reality, two identical blades cannot sharpen one another. At least, not very well. In fact sometimes it can even cause the two blades to dull. The only way to sharpen an iron blade is to use another iron tool with a different edge or texture.
Although people often emphasize the “like iron” part of this verse – meaning two similarly strong followers of Christ – this verse does not promote uniformity. If a blade can only be sharpened by resistance, then a similarly smooth blade has little to offer. The iron that sharpens iron must be an entirely different tool.
Knowing this, Proverbs 27:17 encourages me to surround myself with strong Christians who are different enough to shape me by means of friction. That is to say, I need people in my life whose wisdom, whose contrasting experiences, whose willingness to say difficult things, or whose different perspectives will provide the grit with which God can refine and reform my dull edges. This means finding friends whose differences from me will challenge me to grow and become closer to the Lord. It also means exposing myself to a wide variety of voices in the church. If I desire to be sharpened the way Proverbs 27:17 instructs, I need friends, mentors, and leaders who are as strong as steel in their faith, but whose shapes are different enough to provide some sanctifying resistance in my life.
What kind of influencers have you surrounded yourself with? Are you only spending time with those whose lives, struggles, strengths, ideas, and personalities are just like yours? Or have you reached out to find iron-strong believers who can build and sharpen your faith with their differences?
Pray: “Lord, help me to recognize which people I should spend my time with, and help me to stay away from anyone who could dull my faith. I want to be challenged to grow and learn and become more in You. And as others sharpen my faith, I pray that I would be able to help sharpen my friends’ faith as well.”