Tag Archives: mentoring

Ancient wisdom for today (27)

August 27th 2012, Day 27, Proverbs 27

“You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17 (The Message)

A different translation of the Bible renders this as,

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (New International Version – NIV)

One of the least pleasant experiences I have had whilst in leadership in a church setting is being accosted by someone who just wanted to have a go; to criticise, judge and even attack me personally (though thankfully only verbally) about something that they disagree with. What made this experience so particularly distasteful is that they used today’s proverb as a justification for their assault. I was left wondering why, if the interaction between two people can help both become better (as today’s proverb suggests) I felt more blunted than sharpened by the experience.

I think the answer lies partly in one of the other proverbs I read on this day of the month,

“The wounds from a lover* are worth it; kisses from an enemy do you in” Proverbs 27:6 (The Message)

* The New International Version (NIV) uses the word ‘friend’ instead of ‘lover’.
People who genuinely care about me can bring good into my life even if they cause me pain in the process. Common sense suggests that striking the edge of one blade with the edge of another made of the same material will only damage both blades – so clearly the intent must not be combative for the effect to be good (and therefore I shouldn’t respond to a combative approach in a combative manner).

But hold on, how does iron sharpen iron? My only experience of sharpening blades has involved using a sharpening stone but I have seen people sharpen a blade by running it repeatedly over another metal tool that (thanks to Wikipedia I now know is called a honing steel). So, having done a little research I now realise that you can’t use an iron blade to sharpen another iron blade because they are both made of the same material – you need another material entirely to create a new edge on a blade – but you CAN use an iron tool to make the existing edge on a blade straighter and keener.

So putting these things together suggests that in order for ‘iron to sharpen iron’ the intent of the other person must be to do me good because they not only have to be skilful (and appropriate) in what they do, but they also have to use the correct tools.

Clearly not everyone who says they want to help me actually has my best interests at heart – though I’m not saying that everyone who ends up wounding me to no good purpose does so deliberately, as the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people

Which brings me back to the proverb I quoted a few days ago. The author must have thought it was good enough to mention twice (just as I have) because the same proverb appears in two different places;

“A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered” Proverbs 22:3 and Proverbs 27:12 (The Message)

I guess I need to learn more effectively discern whether I’m facing a friend (in which case I must trust them and the process to do me good, even if I get hurt) or trouble (in which case I may need to duck to avoid being clobbered!)