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Grace Notes

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"IRON SHARPENS IRON"
by Philip Owen

          Believer, how many times have you been comforted, encouraged, or strengthened by some word or deed delivered consciously or unconsciously by a brother or sister in Christ? How many times have you been exhorted, rebuked, or corrected in similar fashion? How many times have you been provoked to stop some behavior, begin some activity, or change course due to something you saw or heard from another believer? Earnest saints must truly acknowledge that such instances are almost countless. And properly so, for they demonstrate the truth expressed in the proverb that “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Pro. 27:17). It is neither preferable nor merely ideal that believers “rub shoulders”; it is essential. A dull axe cannot sharpen itself—it must feel the friction of a whetstone, a grinding wheel, or a rasp. It must come in contact with another adamant. It is not by accident that God has placed us in a local church, where we are intended to get to know and nurture one another. Yes, the church is the place where formal preaching and teaching of the Word occur, but if that is the only place where “iron sharpens iron” and “one man sharpens another,” believers will be, generally, too dull to perform effectively the tasks God intends them to do.

           We leave our isolated castles—our homes, we drive in our sealed-off vehicles, we sit in our designated pews, we give others a cursory nod or smile when arriving and leaving, then reverse the aforementioned process. How can iron sharpen iron under such circumstances? Yes, calls, text messages, etc., often have their place. But there is no substitute for close proximity, for face-to-face contact with other believers if the church is going to experience the kind of growth and development, the kind of genuine fellowship, the manifestations of Christlike, selfless love that the body of Christ is called to live.

           The Lord places a premium on ministering—to one another: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” (Mal. 3:16). On the one hand, no believer is exempt from this responsibility. On the other hand, no believer need miss out on this privilege. This ministry requires no special gift or ability of any kind—only that we fear the Lord. Can you appreciate, not only the duty, but the privilege of this simple service—speaking to one another? To whom have you spoken this week? To whom, wittingly or unwittingly, have you given the Spirit of God the opportunity to bless because you spent time with him or her, face-to-face? And since iron sharpens iron, what opportunity have you allowed yourself so that you might be “sharpened” in return? The Lord takes special note and makes an eternal record of those who minister to others in this manner.

          Solomon rightly observed that “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor” (Eccl. 4:9). The Lord Jesus sent out his disciples “in pairs” (Lk. 10:1). To the believers in Rome, Paul wrote: “I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom. 15:24). Paul admitted to the Corinthians that “God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus . . . but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you” (2 Cor. 7:6, 7). Finally, facing imprisonment in Rome, Paul was met by some of his brethren and “thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:15).

           If such a singularly strong servant of the Lord as Paul needed iron to sharpen his iron, how much must we need it? Perhaps your service is difficult and ineffective because you are “dull.” You have not availed yourself of the sharpening that God intends you both to give and to receive by engaging in more than superficial greetings as you walk down the aisle at church. We will never be all that the Lord wants us to be, we will not be prepared or help to prepare others for approaching adversity, and we will never know the full approbation of the Lord until we open our homes, give our time and energy, and engage in true fellowship with those the Lord has graciously placed us among. Again, no believer is exempt from this service nor excluded from its blessing.

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