I sometimes hear a person say, “Iron sharpens iron,” to encourage men to get together more often. Supposedly, we can improve our character just by rubbing elbows. Is that true?
Frequently repeated sayings can become self-evident truth.
We don’t usually question the validity of common sayings. Because everybody is saying it, nobody disagrees. What we might have is an assumption, an illusion of truth.
Many misconceptions are truth-based.
As a salesman in 1965, I glanced out the window. “Looks like it might rain,” I said.
“No doubt about it,” the customer said. “The rain bushes are in full bloom.”
He was talking about the sage bushes. Was he like others who believed the purple flowers somehow caused rain to fall? I didn’t press the issue, but I have talked to others who swear it’s true.
It rains at many different times when the bushes are dormant or only starting to flower. But when the bushes are at their peak of purple glory, the rain causes all the blooms to fall to the ground.
The false belief came from misinterpreting the truth. Instead of the full blooms bringing the rain, the rain was causing the full blooms to disappear.
The iron-sharpens-iron truism comes from Scripture.
Obviously, if the Bible says so, it has to be true, right? Not if we misinterpret the meaning.
Like iron sharpening iron, a person can improve the character of a friend. — Proverbs 27:17
How does iron sharpen iron?
The quick answer: not very well.
I dragged two table knives together to see if I could sharpen their edges. That didn’t work.
The sharpening rod from my knife rack did little more than polish the edge. If iron was supposed to sharpen iron, why wasn’t this working?
What I needed was an abrasive grit that was harder than the knife edge—like a sharpening stone.
The proverb’s author must have had a different picture in mind.
Perhaps the author was thinking about how swords and spears were made, a piece of hot iron laid on an anvil and beaten repeatedly with a hammer. That’s quite a different visual of what kind of friends will do to help me the most.
I don’t need “iron” people who will tell me I’m okay, that I don’t need to change. I need those who will pound me, grate against me, and challenge me to do better.
A true friend accepts me as I am but won’t let me stay that way.