Friday, November 24, 2006

Sharpening Iron

The Thanksgiving turkey provides me with one of my few opportunites to excercise my surgical skills (sic). The annual ritual involves breaking out the rarely-used carving knife and honing its edge against the long, steel, sharpening rod that it came with. I carefully draw the edge of the blade against the sharpening rod a dozen or more times on each side before pronouncing the equipment ready for battle. The battle itself, as is often the case with battles, rarely goes according to plan. Fortunately, however, the end result depends far more on my wife's skill with cooking than on mine with carving.

As I was contemplating the annual ritual of iron sharpening iron, however, something jumped out at me that I had not really given conscious thought to before.

As iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another

- Proverbs 27:17

Oh yes, we've all heard sermons about the rough edges (sin) removed and the friction (conflict) involved. And I (for one) have tended to use this to justify various friction-generating behaviors. But it suddenly struck me: In one sense, it is certainly the sharpening rod that is sharpening the knife, but only in an "instrumental" way. Unless I wield the instrument, nothing gets sharpened. And that brought me back to my long-standing interpretation of this proverb. Is it really about accountability (as I have often imagined)? Or is it really about community? I think the latter.

God has made us part of His body and has promised to conform us to the image of His son. To do this, He needs to "sharpen" us, but He is the one taking initiative. We are involved in the sharpening activity only as instruments. Perhaps encouragement and bearing one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) should rank higher on our list than "accountability relationships".

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Encouragement requires us to identify with a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1), and the last thing that brother needs ... the last thing I need when I have fallen ... is to have the fallenness explained as if the one on the ground was oblivious of his condition, which is rarely the case. Perhaps my temptation to explain is rooted in a falsely placed sense of pride that I am the one still standing?

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. - I Cor. 10:12

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