Sometimes I see a Bible verse and see it freshly again. I get so used to hearing familiar phrases that they lose all meaning, and then something happens so that I see the words again. In this case, the verse is “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
I never realized what that looked like until I started seeing relationships without that dynamic. After watching a number of people, I’ve concluded that iron finds itself in three different relationships.
The first is what would be considered the low-maintenance relationship. The other person is all-accepting and non-demanding. Like water, they offer no resistance, and leaves you free to move and act as you please. But water rusts iron, and this kind of relationship can rust a person’s soul.
Without someone to challenge you or encourage you do to better, you become complacent and selfish. Your edge is eaten away because you never have cause to use it. When a challenge comes, you’ll shatter into dust.
The second might be termed a high-maintenance relationship. The other person provides a steady stream of demands and expectations, constantly trying to change you to become what they want you to be. The continuous expression of dissatisfaction is the whine of a belt sander.
Iron can be sharpened somewhat by this relationship, but can do no sharpening in return. Eventually, as everything is filed away, you begin to dwindle. A sword becomes a dagger, a dagger a pen-knife, a pen-knife a toothpick. Before long, you’ve been diminished so much you can do nothing at all.
The third kind of relationship is one of sharpening. Both people in the relationship know what the other is capable of, and challenge each other to do better–not out of selfishness, but out of a desire to see each other living life more fulfilled.
This kind of growth doesn’t come without sacrifice. You can’t be sharpened without losing part of yourself. But in a healthy relationship, the edge you gain should more than make up for the material you lose.
I’ve been fortunate to have found some iron friends through the years, and I’m realizing now how much I still need those sorts of friendships, and to be one of those friends in return. Sharpening is not a one-way street…