“Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another.”
The Rev. W. Harris (The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary) wrote the following regarding this verse:
The sword that has seen much hard service must come in contact with another steel instrument to restore its edge. The ploughshare that has pushed its way through hard and stony ground must be fitted for more work by friction with a whetstone, and the axe, after it has felled many trees, must be subjected to a similar process. So the intellectual and spiritual nature of man becomes at times in need of a stimulus from without which may fitly be compared with the sharpening of iron by iron. Hard mental toil, contact with uncongenial persons and things, disappointments, and even great spiritual emotions, have a tendency to exhaust our energies and depress our spirits, and render us for a time indisposed to exertion, and perhaps incapable of it. In such a condition a look of sympathy and encouragement from one who understands us is very serviceable indeed, and has power to arouse within us fresh hope, and therefore new life for renewed action.
As Rev. W. Harris points out in his commentary on Proverbs 27:17, there are a number of things that can cause us to lose our edge or become dull.
Service can cause us to lose our edge. Just as an axe or pencil must be periodically sharpened in order to continue to be usable, so must we be periodically sharpened. We cannot serve without periods of rest, refreshment, and renewal. If we try, it will surely lead us to less effective service and eventually to burn-out.
Service becomes exhausting when we labor in a dulled condition. Out text tells us that our edge can be restored by coming into contact with others. We need the feedback, encouragement, counsel, and checks and balances of others.
But it is important to note that our text says “Iron sharpens iron.” In other words, iron must come into contact with iron in order to be sharpened. In like manner we cannot be sharpened by just any individual. We can only be sharpened by certain individuals.
If you want to be sharpened mentally, you must come in contact with mentally sharp individuals. If you want to be sharpened spiritually, you must come in contact with spiritually mature individuals. If you want to be sharpened morally, you must come in contact with morally pure and upright individuals.
Paul spoke of the importance of coming into contact with the right people in I Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.'”
Sin can cause us to lose our edge. Sin has a corrupting effect upon people. It removes the brightness from our countenance, the joy from our service, and the clarity from our vision. It can quickly dull the edge of our life and service.
Our edge however, can be restored by confession and maintained by accountability. Our text says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” One man can sharpen another by holding him accountable for his life and decisions.
Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Our lives can be kept morally and spiritually sharp when we will allow another to hold us accountable and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25). We must be willing to allow others to wound us if necessary, in order to help us keep our edge.
Setbacks can also cause us to lose our edge. As Rev. W. Harris points out in his commentary on Proverbs 27:17, “disappointments, and even great spiritual emotions, have a tendency to exhaust our energies and depress our spirits, and render us for a time indisposed to exertion, and perhaps incapable of it.”
Setbacks can drain us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Setbacks often leave us feeling listless and hopeless. Our edge can be restored however, through the kind and gentle encouragement of a friend, of one who will offer a smile, a shoulder, and support.
Again, as Rev. W. Harris points out in his commentary, “In such a condition a look of sympathy and encouragement from one who understands us is very serviceable indeed, and has power to arouse within us fresh hope, and therefore new life for renewed action.”