When I was in college I took music composition lessons with a seasoned composition professor. He was the most patient and loving man, and truly wanted all of his students to succeed. One day I brought in a new choral piece. It was a dynamite dazzling gift to the choral world. I proudly brought it in to my professor, ready for him to heap on the praise. He took one look at the piece and said he needed to spend a week with it. Of course! Why not spend time soaking in such sonic splendor? The following week I was ready to hear the applause. He handed me the music and my heart sank. It was bloody with red ink. Front to back. I could hardly lift my eyes. He could tell I was taking it hard. After showing me some of his suggested edits (which were all brilliant), he told me something I will never forget. “David, I only spend this much time with work that shows real potential.”
In Proverbs 27:17 it says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” It’s one thing to cut with a dull knife. It’s quite another thing to be one. Dull edges don’t come off without some friction and some heat. If you’re anything like me, our fear of friction and our cool pride can leave us perpetually dull. Dull knives are not only inefficient, but dangerous. The beauty is, every dull knife has the potential to be sharp again. It just needs some iron.
I am convinced that following Jesus involves sharpening one another along the way. God has created each of us with real potential. Each of us has a purpose, a role, a mission that is given to us by God. The moment that mission becomes overwhelmed with pride, we risk cutting the whole thing off at the knees. Not one of us has all the answers. We need each other. I’m not just talking about the slap on the back “go get ’em tiger” kind of encouragement. What we need is someone who is patient and loving to look at our prideful purposes and say, “did you think about this?”
Even more, we need people who will love us enough to show us our sin. Nothing dulls us like sin. Nothing hides behind our conscience like sin. We sharpen each other most effectively when we can admonish one another, confess to one another and forgive one another. That means your iron sharpens mine and my iron sharpens yours. It’s not easy on either side, but it works. Paul put it this way after some hard words to the Corinthian church, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14)
The piece of music that emerged out of the friction and heat was so much better than the prideful collection of notes I started with. It’s still not God’s gift to choral music, but God did gift me with an important lesson that day. We’re not as good at sharpening ourselves as we think we are. We need each other.