Iron Sharpens Iron

Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.  A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27.14-17)

How do you treat people–I mean usually?  In “psychologist” type language, what is your “interpersonal style?”  One famous psychologist of the past, Harry Stack Sullivan, went so far as to define human personality as a “relatively enduring pattern” of relationships.  He meant that how you relate to people is the best indicator of who you really are.

Solomon says something similar in this short passage–which describes three very different ways of relating to people.  Take your pick.  First, the Idle Flatterer (v. 14).  We all know this person, who seeks to gain favor for himself by oiling his relationships with compliments, flattery, affected zeal (rather than real affection), and ostentatious good wishes (rather than genuine will or caring good works).  He goes out of his way (“rising early in the morning“) to create an image of warmth; but behind the mask lurks a selfish, crass, calculating heart.  God sees behind the mask; and in time others do too-so all his flatteries “will be counted as cursing.”

Then there is the Intimate Enemy (vv. 15, 16). Solomon cites the example of a “quarrelsome wife,” but the principle applies to anyone who perverts close personal relationships into hyper-critical manipulation.  Elsewhere in Proverbs we read that “a friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17.17).  From family (especially wives!) and friends we expect support, encouragement, counsel, and comfort–at times maybe even loving confrontation.  But not Intimate Enemies, who harp, fault-find, and nit-pick.  What would those closest to you say . . . about you?

Finally, there is the People Builder (v. 17). In the first and second cases, the relationship is
one-way.  Neither the Idle Flatterer nor the Intimate Enemy has any real interest in anybody except himself or herself.  But people building is two-way– “Iron sharpens iron”–when two people, like two pieces of iron (neither piece superior to the other), give what they can and receive what they need to grow and develop.  The Apostle Paul provides the perfect example.  When he began his letter to the Christians in Rome (whom he had never seen), he said, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” Yes, he is an apostle–an expert, so to speak–but, no, this is not a one-way relationship, for Paul adds immediately, “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1.11, 12).

Here then is a picture of what it means to be the people of God.  It means “iron sharpening iron.”  It means, dear South Canyon family, to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1Thess. 5.11).  You are loved.

Your Pastor

Richard Wells

Richard Wells

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