“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man
sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
~ Proverbs 27:17
“The words of the Preacher” on this occasion have to do primarily with fellowship. Generally, iron in the scripture denotes hardness and solidity. Iron is thought of as strong and unaffected by other materials. Hence, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:18-19).
However, when the iron file is rubbed on the iron blade, that strong iron blade is shaped and sharpened. And, so it is with man. No man is an island unto himself, independent and unaffected by others. No matter how strong he may seem to be, his fellow man may sharpen him or grind him down to slivers. Now, let us consider our verse to meditate upon and grow thereby.
In the first place, fellowship is necessary for us. Even when man was in a perfect state, with perfect communion with God, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This was uttered before man fell. The man needed a companion, one of his own kind. He needed friendship and fellowship. Solomon observed that “one alone” was a “sore travail” and that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-9). He goes on to support his claim by giving several evidences from his experience. Man needs fellowship and it is not good to abide alone. We need to be sharpened. The blunt instrument is of little use, and can actually be a hindrance, where a sharp edge is needed.
However, there are two types of fellowship: good and bad. Good fellowship is most profitable to us while bad fellowship is destructive. Realizing that our closest companions will exert a tremendous influence on us, they should be chosen with consummate care. Paul instructed young Timothy to “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). He told Timothy to choose companions that were godly and spiritual, those that were following righteousness, faith, charity, and peace and calling on the Lord with a pure heart. He was to aim high in his choice of close friends.
Our fellowship should challenge and convict us. Our close friends should bring out the best in us. They should be honest with a sincere love of the Lord. In this way, we should sharpen one another. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are to provoke one another to love and good works.
Our friends should bring us up to a higher and nobler plane. Solomon wrote, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” (Proverbs 13:20). David proclaimed, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63). The new members of the first church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” They continued “daily with one accord,” and God blessed them greatly (Acts 2:42, 46).
However, we oftentimes err in our choice of friends by aiming far too low. We do not want someone that is going to challenge us and convict us by their life. We just want a good-time buddy that does not expect much from us. This buddy lives to a much lower standard than we believe we should and keeps our thoughts and affections on things below, not above. We will probably justify this friendship by thinking that we will have a good influence on them and help bring them up. In fact, the very opposite is true. They are going to bring us down. Paul wrote, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
In reality, this friendship is enjoyable to the flesh. We do things with them that we would not normally do. We easily allow them to coax us into wrong. We feel like that we have some sort of license with them because they have no conscience. Let us be warned, knowing that God brought judgment upon Jehoshaphat causing his enterprise to fail because of his evil association with Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 20:37). Likewise, our bad friendships will bring us to ruin. Solomon warns us “a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Let us then heed his wise counsel when he says, “Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6).
In the second place, we see the aspect of accountability in good fellowship. That iron blade left to itself will go dull. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) before the man fell and had evil sinful desires in his flesh. The man needed accountability.
Without accountability in good fellowship, a man will usually go one of two ways. One way is he will begin “to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). He begins to become his own standard of measure. He will look down on others that do not do every little thing the way he does them. He may even begin to dismiss everyone else as not being orthodox or sound enough. He has no respect to cultural differences that are not violations of Scripture and thinks his way is the only way.
The other way is he will run into sin freely. Having no restraints, he will run to excess. That lack of fellowship and maintenance of a high standard will cause deterioration of his moral principles. He will rationalize and justify a loose lifestyle, with no one to check him. This is one reason why we are such undisciplined eaters. We either have no accountability at all, choosing our food foolishly or else when that accountability is momentarily absent, we cheat and either way we fail.
In conclusion Christian, are your friends propelling you to greater heights in your service to God, or are they hindering you and holding you back? Do they provide accountability and help you to live up to a higher standard? If they are hindering you, you need new friends. If they are a true blessing to you, you should thank God for them, cleave to them, and sharpen one another. God help us to find safety in a multitude of wise counselors!