Iron Sharpens Iron

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You may not realize that the old adage “Iron sharpens iron” comes from the Bible. It’s from a brief phrase in Proverbs 27:17. The full verse says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, you probably have a decent idea of what it means. It’s about being mutually beneficial. But more than being a good quote, the verse demonstrates a wider theme in Scripture: the power of community.

Family emphasis

Since Genesis, family has been a major emphasis. Genesis records a sin against family (Cain and Abel), lists Noah’s various descendants, and repeats the promise that Abraham will be a father to many nations.

Later, after the Exodus, the regrouped Israelites received laws that helped them live as chosen people of God, uniquely bonded together under special codes and familial relationships. Family looked out for each other, or they were supposed to. Like most of the cultures throughout Old Testament times, loyalty to family was one of the greatest values.

New identity

Nothing about the value of family changed in the New Testament. However, who was family did change. The people of God expand from Israel to everyone, thanks to Jesus.

Because we are in Christ, Paul uses the language of adoption. He writes in Romans 8:15, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Once we enter God’s kingdom, and receive the Spirit, we are sons of God.

Radical community

Being in the family of God comes with perks, but it also comes with expectations. As Christian brothers and sisters, we are to look out for each other. The early church described in Acts modeled this is a radical way:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:44-46).

Christianity boomed at the beginning because of the radical community the church set up. In many ways, one person’s iron sharpened another person’s iron. The connections benefited each individual and the group, through encouraging one another and even sharing resources. The church exploded because of collaboration. Even the missionaries went out in twos to be more effective.

Working together

If you have an iron tool, certainly it will work on its own. But eventually, it’s going to get dull; it will become ineffective and perhaps useless. However, when pressed against another piece of iron, each can profit the other.

In the same way, alone, we Christians will quickly become practically useless. God designed us to work together with our brother and sisters so we can produce harvests far greater than what we can do alone.

Mutual need

The book of Hebrews encourages us with the word: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).

This verse, often used about church attendance, fits within the larger theme in Scripture of the importance of community. We need each other.

Community is powerful. Friendship has benefits. So how will you spur on your fellow Christian? How will you sharpen the Christian effectiveness of your sibling in the faith?

Jake Doberenz
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Jake Doberenz is a college minister, student, and teacher in Oklahoma City, OK. He has been published in Red Letter Christians, Pop Culture and Theology, Devotable, Think Magazine, Christian Web Trends, and The Christian Chronicle. Jake received both his bachelor's degree and his Master of Theological Studies degree from Oklahoma Christian University. He also founded Theophany Media, a Christian educational media organization.