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A Study on Proverbs 27:17 - Friendship and Fellowship - Going Deeper

I've seen this scripture many times, you may have as well, however, when was the last time we stopped to think about what it means or what it challenges us to do?  I was just going to post this first simple photo on our Facebook page and just think to myself, "Isn't that a nice scripture, friends are good for one another."  But this time I decided to do a little study on this scripture.  (As a parent of a teenager, I have taught him how to research scripture, and in doing so, I have learned to do it much more thoroughly myself)  After looking up several translations, and reading the entire chapter to be sure I correctly understood the context, it led me to realize that it has a deeper meaning than most of us realize at first glance.

I'm going to get a little geeky here, but bear with me.  When I looked at the direct Hebrew to English translation of this scripture it more closely read:

"As iron to iron, he is sharpening a man, and he is sharpening the faces of his associates"
Proverbs 27:17 
 (The translation above came from the 'Online Hebrew Interlinear Bible', find it by clicking this LINK.)

In my research, I found that the word "Face", which in Hebrew can also be translated "presence" or "countenance", is almost always used in the plural tense because there are so many combinations of features to this word.  In Old Testament Hebrew, "Face" is often far more than just a part of the body; it reflects one who is engaged in behavior and is characterized by some personal quality, thus, one's face revealed his/her moods, emotions, and character.

Why does this matter?  Well, for me, I like to consider all the information I can get on a scripture so that I can more fully understand not only what God is teaching me, but also what He wants me to do with the information I have just learned.

I'd like to look at the definition of a couple more words to help us to accurately find the meaning of this scripture:

      : To make (something) sharp or sharper; (as in a knife)
      : To make (something) clearer or more distinct; (as in sharpening a photo)
      : To become clearer or more distinct; (as in 'someones mind is sharp and clear')

       : The appearance of a person's face; a person's expression

    ASSOCIATE (noun):
        :  A companion
        :  One that habitually accompanies or is associated with another
        :  A member of an institution or society who is granted only
           partial status or privileges.

Let’s break it down into parts first.  The chapter of Proverbs that this scripture is from is a list of many comparisons, some are similar and other are opposites, but they all relate.  This particular Proverb is clearly comparing how iron sharpens iron to how we are called to sharpen one another in Fellowship.

The concept of sharpening a blade as I understand it in today's world (2014) is a bit different than it would have been back in the time frame of the writing of Proverbs, which was around the tenth century B.C. during the reign of King Solomon when Israel was united.   In that time, a blacksmith with the intention of sharpening one blade would not likely rub it along another smooth sharp blade, as it would likely not work well.  My current understanding is that creating swords or blades of any kind in this era was much more complicated than the scenes we normally see on tv or in a movie, it is a long process requiring much skill and patience where the blacksmith must precisely know how to heat the metal and then quench the metal before tempering it and then grinding and polishing it to a sharp edge. 

When the blade had cooled it was ready to be ground and sharpened (or “polished”). This is where its edge and point would be properly honed by hand to a desired degree. By holding the cold blade against a series of large slowly turning grinding wheels of different grains, the blade’s final shape would be formed. It could then be given an edge with smaller stones or hard metal files.

I'd like to point out that to get a good sharp blade you wouldn't rub 2 blades exactly alike together, it wouldn't cause enough friction to make them sharp, it took many different types of grinding wheels to get the blade properly shaped to the place where it was sharp and most effective. In a similar manner, we are supposed to work in the same way when in the company of others.  For us to be 'sharp' we will have to be heated and cooled and then ground against a variety of different 'grit' people.  Each different 'grit' is necessary to get that sharp edge in the end. 

What does this mean for us?  As we are in the process of being 'sharpened like iron', God will likely put us in contact with a variety of people with different temperaments and beliefs, many will likely also be different in their personality or 'grit', meaning that some will see things similarly to us and others may go against everything we say.  We need Christian friends who are close enough to tell us the hard truth when we need to hear it, friends who have wisdom and offer different perspectives to us, this is the 'grit' that sharpens our blade.

In my opinion, we sometimes need to break out of our denominational boxes and expose ourselves to a variety of voices in the church.  The past 5 years of my life I have widened the breadth of the authors, pastors, and Bible teachers that I read, watch, or listen to.  I don't agree with everything each of them say, but I have a favorite group of them that have furthered my knowledge and intimacy with God through their teachings.  I just want to interrupt for a moment to say that every single concept must be studied and compared to scripture and through prayer and study I come to believe only after I've confirmed that scripture supports the position or statements of the teacher/pastor/author. Now, coming back to this idea of surrounding ourselves with different people in the church, if we desire to be sharpened the way this scripture in Proverbs is instructing us, then we need strong and mature christian friends.  And this next part is also important, they should not all be just like us!  We need those friends and mentors who challenge us with enough 'grit' to 'sharpen' our blade .... we need this until the day we die or the day Jesus returns for His Saints!

How we interact with these friends and mentors that challenge us is a learning process over our lifetimes.  We must remember that these people our blessings to us and they are our 'grinding wheel', which will smooth us out and teach us how to be better versions of ourselves, continuing in the process of becoming more like Christ. 

As you might imagine with this semi-smooth blade being ground down by different types of 'rough grinding wheels', it will not always be easy or comfortable.  In fact, it is likely to be difficult and even hurt at times.  But it is truthfully something that is completely necessary if you want that blade to be sharp!  The hope is that in this process of taking away our rough parts, that it would sharpen our ability to listen without harsh reaction or judgement, to have compassion (even for those who we may have previously deemed unworthy in our minds or even hated in the past), to teach us God's Word in applicable ways that reach our core, to encourage, and make each other stronger whenever possible by exuding the love of Christ. Once we have matured to a high point, we will likely become the 'grit' for someone else, even though our blade continues in the sharpening process.  It is a looping cycle that when done correctly, brings people together in a supportive network.
Going back to the study of the Hebrew translation of Proverbs 27:17, I was once again struck with a revelation that the word 'associate' is used instead of 'friend'.  Personally, I could exchange the title 'Associate' with the title 'Acquaintance'...meaning: someone you know slightly, but who is not a close friend. Why does this even need mentioning you might ask?  I happen to find it important because this means that in the original language that Proverbs was written, which is Hebrew, we are encouraged to sharpen not just our close friends but also acquaintances which we might not know as well or be as comfortable with.  Again, in my opinion, this is a bigger challenge.  To engage in Fellowship with my associates as well as my friends about my faith in such a way as to end with one or both of us being 'sharpened'.  This means that we can't only stay in our circle of friends, we need to branch out, or rather we need to reach out to more people than just the people who believe as we do.  Outreach can only happen when we reach OUT/OUTSIDE our normal boundaries or circle of friends.

"As iron to iron, he is sharpening a man, and he is sharpening the faces of his associates” 

Proverbs 27:17

  The last phrase from the Hebrew translation that I want to mention is the section that says "and he is sharpening the faces (also translated as countenance) of his associates".  What does it mean to sharpen the face or countenance of your associate?  The face is talking about someone’s literal face, and we've defined someone's countenance as the appearance of someone’s face or their expression.  If we take the meanings of the key words, you could phrase this section of the scripture as "he is making the face or expression of his associates more clear, distinct, or sharp."  (Of course this is my opinion only, and I've typed it this way only for the hope of better understanding the original text and how we are to apply it to our lives.)


The scripture tells us that just as rubbing one iron blade against another sharpens the blades, so should we interact with our friends and acquaintances, through Fellowship, in a way that is not only beneficial in terms of making things clearer/sharper, but that also changes their face and/or countenance.  Hopefully they will leave our presence in a better mood or feeling encouraged in a way that wasn't present before we met with them.  This is a way that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus.  And if you've been fortunate enough to practice this already, you will know that you also often walk away yourself feeling 'sharpened' because you've been used by God to bless someone.  Perhaps you've even walked away being encouraged yourself, or enlightened with some wisdom or discernment about a topic you didn't truly understand before, or maybe perhaps you just left feeling loved.  I do believe that God blesses those who bless others. (Proverbs 11:25, 2 Corinthians 9:8-11)

I cannot conclude this post without mentioning that sometimes these interactions will include deep discussions and sometimes possibly even debates where both parties are challenged to dig deep into God's Word to uncover Truth. This is at times uncomfortable in the beginning, but we must not mistake it as a bad thing.  Similar to the little shards of iron that are stripped from the blade when it is sharpened.  The Bible teaches us that even though we may feel at times as though parts of us are being chipped away, we will come out sharper than we started and our countenance should also change because of the Truth of God.  It is a process.  And as much as I have felt the short term pain of some of the 'sharpening', I am so thankful to have a God who is constantly making efforts to shape me to act more like Christ as I get older.  Again, I'll say, this isn't always easy, but it is always good!  It is good for us, and many times our process collides with other people and we are part of Gods plan to bless others with the new understanding and love that we have gained in our 'sharpening process'.

Sharpening and refining (the idea of refining is from another scripture - Psalm 66:10) build us into who God created us to be.  And while we may not know all the details of exactly who that is, we can be sure that it includes us having compassion and love for others.  Because these traits are what lead us to Fellowship, which is designed for everyone's benefit.

Let's make an effort to be sincerely interested in the people who are in our life.  The older I get the less I believe in coincidences.  God may have allowed your car not to start this morning because he wanted you to take the bus and sit next to someone needing a friendly smile and encouraging conversation.  So we must look at our daily situations differently (and I will likely be a work in progress in this area for life), because negatives aren't always negative in the grand scheme of things.  God put you in the family you are in, who can you bless for Him?  People we run into regularly, some we may have known for many years, and others we may not know very well at all...the call is the same, love through fellowship whenever you can.  Having someone listen and care about what is happening to them, could change someone's life.
While I was writing this I just heard the news of Actor Robin Williams passing.  He struggled for a long time with depression.  And I've never been a Movie Star but it sure seems to me like Hollywood is full of fake people.  How might it have changed Robin's life if he had some authentic people supporting him in a loving way with accountability to check in and talk about what was going on in his life?  In this photo to the right, he says, The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone." This is the exact opposite of the meaning of this scripture.  We MUST reach out, we must love, we must challenge incorrect thinking and bring problem solving back to the Word of God.  Let us never be people who cause others to feel alone even in our presence!

Robin Williams is famous, but there are also many people walking around on our streets, in our stores, in our homes or families, and even those who might be scrolling through our Facebook Newsfeeds are suffering from similar issues as Robin Williams.  We can never know the true eternal impact of even one act of love and compassion.  Maybe someone you know today is struggling in private, notice them, smile, and let them know that you are there should they want to talk or if they need anything. 

This is a challenge to me as much as it is to anyone else.  I can so easily get caught up in my own life drama, which includes a life of chronic illness and pain, but I know deep in my heart that God challenges me to love and to reach matter my circumstances or pain level.  My pain helps me to relate to others, it keeps me humble, and it makes me more tender because I've been through a lot in my 39 year life so far!  I am beyond fortunate to have women like this in my life, who love me, but also challenge me when I need it, or if I've been discussing things that make it obvious to them that I am confusing my emotions with the Truth of God, they will point it out in a loving fashion and help me not to fall in Satan's trap of insecurity, temptation, or misinformation! That is a true friend!  And I most desire to be that sort of friend to others.  As this scripture challenges us to begin this love/truth sharing relationship with 'associates' or people who are not yet in our inner circle of friends, I am reminded that all my most intimate and amazing friendships with other women started out as small conversations of sympathy, encouragement, laughter, and sincere concern with women I didn't really know yet.  Had I not followed God's lead to connect with those women, I would not have them as part of my life now, which would be a tragedy to me.

The world is full of people who don't connect and only see our differences, let us do our best, with the help of our Savior, who resides inside us in the form of the Holy Spirit, to be different and to do more, press harder to listen, to care, to love, and to be Truth tellers to those whom we might be different from.  If we form relationships with people different than we are, then they will be much more open to hear our beliefs or even to open up to us if they first believe that we sincerely care about them and that can lead them to care for us or love us back. THIS is the key because Love can cover a multitude of sin (on both sides) and I think that coming together can happen because of genuine relationship.  And since we serve a God who not only believes in love, but who is Himself the very definition and origination of love...why wouldn't being kind, tender, and eventually loving other people be the very thing the world needs?  Our purpose is to Praise & Bless the Lord who made us, and since He is love, when we live a life that reflects love to others, our attempt to be like Him, to emulate the One who made us, it IS a blessing to Him!  I believe an efforts to live a life like Christ gives God a big smile, our 15 mistakes along the way won't matter as much if in the end we learned to share love with another human that God loves for the purpose of sharing the amazing Gospel which in itself is a lesson of loving others more than yourself, irregardless of what you get back.  Yes, it will be hard at times, and there will likely be some relationships that need some boundaries, but God will use those for our growth....I've never known Him to waste a teachable moment.

I used to be a very outgoing person when I was younger, but the older I get, the more comfortable I've become just living my fairly isolated life.  As always, I write these posts because I am the student and not the teacher, God is teaching me something and I am sharing what I'm learning.  So I not only do not have this perfected, but over the past 2 years I have honestly not reached out to many people at all in fellowship.  I'm convicted to do better, because it is not just about me...because I do believe that God would bless me through those new relationships, but the most important reason is because God wants to use me to bless someone else....and I'm not doing it.  I am going to be praying that God will give me the desire to reach out to others and to give me wisdom and discernment regarding what to say when He does put someone in my path.  If I'm being totally honest, at this point in my life....I don't feel like doing this at all, but I know in my heart of hearts that it is RIGHT! I feel that it is what God wants me to do, and because I love Him and desire to be pleasing to Him, I will push past my discomfort and do it for Him.  I'm telling you this because I think there will be those who read this and feel like I do, I want you to know you are not alone.  And if you would like, we could be an encouragement to one another.  If you are reading this through the blog website, you can comment below this post or if you want to keep things private or personal please go to the 'Contact Me' tab and fill out the email form as it comes directly to me.  If you are reading this on Facebook, similarly you can comment below this post or send a private FB message. 

I pray this post will be an encouragement to someone.  We don't have to be alone, in fact that is not the way God designed us, we are relational, just like He is.  So our need and desire to connect is not only normal, but foundational to who we are made to be!

  Don't be afraid to connect, to converse, to respectfully research truth together when disagreements arise, to encourage, to listen with patience, and love!

Let's be as Iron Sharpening Iron!



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