The mightily influential, Late Evangelist Reverend Dr. Billy Graham wrote,
The human soul is a lonely thing. It must have the assurance of companionship. Left entirely to itself, it cannot enjoy anything. God said in the beginning, “It is not good that man should dwell alone” (Genesis 2:18). The creation of Eve was the beginning of human companionship. God’s people are a body, not intended to function separately, not intended to be unconcerned for one another.
The only true body in the world is the Church. The world may talk grandly of brotherhood, but in reality, its philosophy is “each man for himself.” All of God’s children are guaranteed the richest and truest friendship, both here and hereafter. Only in a true friendship and a true love do we find a genuine basis for peace. Only God can break down the national and racial barriers that divide men today. Only God can supply that love that we must have for our fellowman.
We will never build brotherhood of man upon earth until we are believers in Christ Jesus. The only true cohesive power in the world is Christ the Lord. He alone can bind all generations of human hearts together in one genuine love.
Proverbs 27:17 Amplified Bible
As iron sharpens iron,
So, one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion].
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
Within the Hebrew (Old) Testament, there are many nuggets of wisdom to take in, with whole books dedicated to the subject. The wisest man to ever walk the earth, King Solomon, wrote several books, including Proverbs. Many of these proverbs come in a poetic form; some of them are long, symbolic narratives, while others are but the briefest of couplets full of truth. One such statement is, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
Sometimes these metaphoric statements can be complex and rather difficult to understand, especially when they are taken out of context. Most Christians thinkers believe this statement regarding iron sharpening iron only relates to having a good friend, honesty that improves one’s character and calls out sin in a loving way; though there are some who believe it refers to also someone who brings down another, and argue it is a negative statement.
Either way, the phrase “iron sharpens iron” from Proverbs 27:17 highlights the important truth that people affect and influence one another, words and actions define relationships for better or worse, and they change people, so people need to act accordingly.
What Is the Context Around Proverbs 27:17?
Proverbs 27 falls towards the end of the book, as there are 31 chapters. It is grouped with several other chapters which are labelled as having been written by King Solomon, the son of David and the builder of the temple, copied later by men who worked for King Hezekiah of Judah. Solomon’s reign was around 970-931 BC, while Hezekiah’s was from 715-686 BC, two centuries later.
The verses in Proverbs are chocked full of advice, many of which are about positive and negative interactions and behaviors. Some examples include:
“Let another praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5).
“As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19).
“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).
In the middle of these verses is, “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” However, the back half is sometimes given as, ‘…sharpens the face of another.’ Like many of the Proverbs, it uses metaphor to make its point.
What Does “Iron Sharpens Iron” Mean?
When creating and shaping a metal blade, it is often sharpened, and then it is maintained through its life, by dragging it against a harder metal. Without this periodic maintenance, a blade will eventually become quite dull and less useful.
During the life of Solomon, many weapons, pieces of armor, and tools were made of iron. It would not have been a highly refined version of metal, like steel. It was also not necessarily consistent in how hard or soft it was.
A tool would have been sharpened, ground against something harder, to make it smoother, remove deformities, and to maintain its ability to cut. When iron is scraped against another material in this way, it too becomes more refined. The metaphor in the first half of the verse refers to a common practice with which many of that day would have been extraordinarily acquainted, familiar with.
The second half of the verse explains the metaphor. Like a piece of hard iron will sharpen another piece of iron, the interactions between two people will shape and change one another. Most scholars and theologians interpret this changing as a refinement of character. Being in the presence of a truly strong believer, within their sphere of influence, can help refine another person too.
Earlier verses in chapter 27 reflect this idea, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6). An honest acquaintance will lovingly address when someone they care about is doing something wrong or struggling with a decision.
It is also in alignment with philosophies of behavior encouraged in the New Testament; “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Calling out sin, encouraging each other, and lifting one another up in prayer are all ways of sharpening one another.
Like both metals are altered by the sharpening process, both believers who interact with one another have an impact on each other. If a believer disciples another, they grow as well. Their understanding of the Bible can grow, they can deepen their relationship with God, and each other and have new experiences.
Where Else in the Bible Do We See Believers Strengthening One Another?
God wants Christians to challenge one another and strengthen the community in love as a family and in fellowship (Acts 2:43-47), because they are all the sons and daughters of God. In the New Testament, particularly in the epistles, the writers decidedly, deliberately, put a particularly strong emphasis on it.
Some of these verses include:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
“But exhort one another everyday, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21).
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
How Can We Sharpen One Another Today?
These many ways of lifting one another up mentioned in the Bible still apply today. Singing songs to God together, reading the Word, and praying for one another is a great start. Learning more about one another so as to help each other in their specific weaknesses is a way to be supportive and grow stronger in character. Devoting yourselves to innovatively teaching generations about being a success, about mentoring, modeling for each other Christian character.
Availability is so important. Many serve one another by providing meals, time, and energy in each other’s daily lives. This builds trust, meaning believers can challenge each other in more personal ways, people do not live in a vacuum, and the way they are all positively influenced and treated will leave a lasting impact.
True and lasting friendship seems to be a rare gift these days. Many people have made themselves too busy to truly invest the time and energy it takes to develop significant relationships. Often, we will hear people say to each other, “We’ll have to get together soon”–but it seldom happens, and opportunities are lost.
Individuals and communities want to be taught they can come together and be strong in the Lord, believe in themselves – believe in their diverse strengths, to share hopes and dreams for something better than where they find themselves. As the Lord has promised, there is always going to be a time of a greater future.
It is a tough lesson to learn. It is an even far tougher lesson to devote oneself to communicating and teaching, modeling and mentoring, living and sacrificing for. And this is the lesson of the life and ministry, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, who for the joy, which was before Him, endured the Cross!
Good friends are one of God’s greatest gifts. Not one of us is ever meant to go through life alone and without help. God longs to use you as his hands and feet to those he has placed in your midst. He longs to make you a friend as God is a great friend to us, in order to bless others and extend the reach of his kingdom.
God is calling you and me to love our friends “at all times.” He is calling you and me to a lifestyle of service and grace. What friend of yours needs your help right now? Who can we choose to serve over ourselves? What friend is God calling you to influence and love with the love and influence He has shown all of us today?
1. Pray and Meditate upon God’s desire for us to pursue godly friendship. Allow Holy Scriptures to stir up our desire to influence and love friends well today.
2. How can you be a better friend today? In what ways can you and I love those whom God has given us as friends? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to your ways you can better love and influence those around you today.
3. Ask God to empower you to be a friend who loves unconditionally. Ask him to make you more like himself every day. Spend quality time just resting in his presence and allowing his love to fill you and influence you and empower you.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Heavenly, Father, there are times in my life when I need true and genuine friends, a comforting arm, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or even just sensible good advice. But there are no true friends to turn to. No one who I can relate to, who truly understands exactly how I feel. It leaves me feeling broken, empty, and lost. Fill me, Lord with Your divine holy presence. Allow me to feel Your tender, warm embrace wrapped around me, as I sit here and cry out to You. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.