“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV)
I hate confrontation. Just thinking about having a hard conversation makes my chest tighten and heart palpitate. I’d rather get a root canal, swim with sharks, or give a speech in front of the whole world. I avoid it like the plague and probably would forever if it wasn’t for the investment of a few faithful friends. They ask me hard questions, point me to God’s Word, and challenge me to grow in this area.
I’ve read today’s verse countless times over the years, but something dawned on me today as I read it once more. I always assumed the sharpening process was solely a confrontational one. I believed that in order to truly be a friend that sharpens, confrontation was just par for the course. And while this is a part of it, God desires a more nuanced approach to living in community. Sharpening a blade takes time, intentionality, and skill. The same is true for us.
As we enter into community (vulnerably and authentically), we don’t just dive in with swords raised ready to confront every issue we see. We move with grace and patience. We get to know each other. We share moments together like birthdays and holidays, and as trust grows so does the influence we have in each other’s lives.
It’s within these moments lived together that sharpening happens: through the sharing of God’s Word, encouragement, instruction, exhortation, and yes also through confrontation. And because we’re uniquely made, we’ll sharpen one another uniquely. If you have the gift of encouragement, you’ll most likely be known in your group as the encourager. If you have the gift of hospitality, your home will probably be known as the place to go when needing a good hug and a hot meal.
Using our gifts to strengthen our community makes sense, but it doesn’t free us from doing the things we’re less comfortable with. A part of this sharpening process is being challenged to grow in areas we are weakest. If we lack the gift of hospitality, we must still strive to be hospitable. If encouragement is not our thing, we must still work at being encouraging. And if we hate confrontation, we must still speak the truth in love when the Spirit prompts us to.
Living in community refines us. We sharpen, smooth, and shape one another. Sometimes it hurts, but the end result is beautiful and transformative. If you, like me, dread confrontation or some other aspect of living in community with others, I’d like to challenge you like my friends challenged me. Be open to letting a few faithful people into your life. Whatever discomfort (or sharpening) you may feel will be far outmatched by the love and support gained. We were made to live this life together.
PAUSE: Take a moment to thank God for the community where He’s placed you. If you feel you don’t have a community, pray and ask Him to bring you a few faithful friends. He will surely do it.
PRACTICE: Reach out to someone today. Invite them over for coffee or dinner, or just chat on the phone with them for a while. You’ll be amazed at how God will use you to sharpen them and use them to sharpen you.
PRAY: Father, thank You for creating us to live in community. Thank You for blessing us with the gift of friendship. It’s not always easy to do life well with others, but it’s so worth it because it brings value to our lives and makes us more like You. Help us to live authentically in the communities where You’ve placed us and to grow and be sharpened into the image of Your Son. Amen.