June 2, 2021
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read my last two posts where I talk about what it looks like to be on the receiving end of being “sharpened.” The truth is we NEED to be sharpened by other men in our lives. For that matter, we need sharpening from the women in our lives as well! It’s one of the ways that we learn and grow. Yes, it might sting to be called out or have our actions questioned, but if the rebuke is warranted, we are wise to heed it.
It takes humility to accept and learn from a sharpening experience.
It takes courage to do the sharpening.
In today’s Christian culture, the unforgivable sin seems to be judgmentalism. You are better off being a heretic! In a world where tolerance for everything and everyone is the highest virtue, pointing out a flaw in another person is quickly decried. But, is this the message of Jesus?
Consider Matthew 7:1-5
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Verses 1 and 2 must be interpreted in light of verses 3-5. What Jesus is warning against is hypocrisy and the self-righteous judgment of another person. For example, if you are verbally abusive towards your wife and children, yet you call out another man for doing the same, that makes you a hypocrite. What if you are habitually late when meeting with people, never taking ownership of it, and then call out a guy who shows up ten minutes late to your appointment? Yes, that’s hypocritical. If you look down on another man because he is struggling in a particular area and you think you are better than him because that’s not your particular struggle, you are acting self-righteously.
Jesus doesn’t say NOT to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. He says to take the plank out of your own eye so that you can see more clearly how to remove the speck in your brother’s eye. This is not an “anti-sharpening” verse. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Jesus is instructing us to help our brothers, but we also need to be fully aware of the sin in our own lives and deal with that, too.
Jesus was perfect, of course, and yet, he had no problem calling out the Pharisees for their ungodly behavior. He called them vipers and white-washed tombs. Was he judging their motives and behavior? Yes, and appropriately so. What if Jesus turned a blind eye to their behavior, so as not to hurt their feelings or damage their self esteem? What kind of message would that have been?
What if Jesus’ motive in everything he did was to be liked? Is that your motivation? Do you avoid hard conversations with your brothers in Christ because it might make you less likeable? I’m glad the Apostle Paul didn’t have that attitude.
Paul’s letters to churches and individuals could also be described as letters of sharpening. Paul took ownership of his own crap. He had a clear understanding of the man he was and his unwavering need for God’s grace in his life. But he still called people out for their actions and attitudes. Paul was a humble, broken and redeemed man whom God gave an incredible platform. He used that platform to plant churches and minister to those churches until his death. I don’t know if Paul was always “likeable.” He definitely rubbed people the wrong way. But I believe he did it in love and with a humble heart, as well as with the truth of the Gospel forever on his lips.
I believe that too many Christian men have abdicated their role as sharpeners in the name of “niceness.” Somehow, our culture has bought the lie that simply being nice is the most important descriptor for a man. I believe that men should be good, kind, loving, gracious, humble, and gentle. “Nice” can easily become a counterfeit of these Christ-like traits. I wouldn’t use the word “nice” to describe Jesus. Nice guys don’t rock the boat. Nice guys aren’t brutally tortured and crucified.
Consider this quote from Greg Morse, a staff writer for desiringGod.org.
“Nice says nothing of spine, of edge, of valor, and thus it can say little of righteousness or purpose. Nice requires no courage, no conviction, and no willingness to make enemies with the wicked.”
Next week I’ll close out this series on sharpening with some practical tips on how to do it well.
Questions for reflection and discussion:
1. When have you settled for niceness when the situation actually called for something more?
2. Do you hold back from playing a sharpening role in the lives of others? If so, why?