“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV)
A familiar verse, but what does the first part mean? Recall that a blade is merely a wedge with the primary function of dividing an object into two pieces. Examining knives under a microscope reveals a “mountain range” of teeth at the edge. If sharp, the teeth are uniform and arrayed in a row; if dull, they are misshapen and misaligned.
A dull knife requires more force when applied to the same area: more effort completes the same task. A dull knife is not optimal in performing its intended function: it cleaves less evenly and cleanly than its counterpart. A dull knife can be dangerous: it is more prone to falling outside the wielder’s control.
To sharpen a dull blade means to bring its microscopic teeth back into alignment. The blade is forced against another object at an angle while applying pressure swiftly and repeatedly. Only a material of equal or greater hardness to the blade can be useful in the sharpening process. Use of a weaker material may cause the blade to destroy it in the process.
Furthermore, a knife can only be sharpened to perfection when metal is removed from the blade’s outer edge to create a brand-new one. Only a knowledgeable craftsman with the proper tools can replace the edge of a dull blade and restore it to its original level of function.
Thus, iron demands no less than iron to maintain or regain its sharpness and perform its function. Similarly, we require those who share our composition at a minimum to refine and reshape the imperfections and deformities within us that inhibit effective and efficient service in our appointed roles. Conversely, others need the same from us so that they may reorient from remaining dull and unusable to serving their original purpose more effortlessly, cleanly, and safely.
The sharpening process may involve much friction, tension, and wear on both the sharpener and the one being sharpened, but it results in refinement and renewal. Ultimately, only the Master Craftsman can remove the old layer and create a new one that will perform as per His original design. Let us continue to sharpen one another as we wait for this final shedding of our imperfect outer edge for one that is perfect for its intended use.