As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
A man recently told me how on his daughter’s first week in kindergarten her teacher asked each student to bring a small rock to school. The teacher took all of their rocks and placed them into a rock tumbler along with some abrasive grit and water. Then for the entire semester the tumbler turned 24/7, wearing the rough edges off the stones. This process produced beautiful smooth stones, almost gemlike in their luster.
The man said that he wasn’t sure if his daughter fully grasped the parable of the rock tumbler, but its lesson was not lost on him. He said that he realized how it is through the friction and irritation of relationships that God brings forth our beauty.
Today’s text carries a similar message: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. Sparks fly as the two metals collide, and there’s a whole lot of friction and heat. Sponges don’t sharpen sponges, but the hard blows of iron striking hard against iron do!
The parable of the rock tumbler, along with today’s Scripture text, makes me think differently about those people who, well, really irritate me. They rub me the wrong way! Perhaps they are God’s sharpening tools for making me more like Christ? Someone has aptly called these irritating people, “grace builders”. They are God’s chosen instruments for building grace in you and me.
When sparks are flying in relationships I frequently think of lessons learned by Pachomius (A. D. 292-348). He was born to pagan parents in Egypt and drafted into the army at age twenty. While a solider he was so impressed by the love shown by persecuted Christians that he became a fellow follower of Jesus. After Pachomius was released from the army he was determined to grow in his faith. He did what some devout Christians were doing in his day, becoming a hermit living alone in the desert, fasting, praying, and meditating on Scripture.
But after a while Pachomius had second thoughts about this way of following Jesus. How can you learn love, he wondered, if no one else is around? How can you learn humility if living alone? How can you learn gentleness and goodness in isolation? And how can you practice patience unless someone is putting yours to the test?
In time Pachomius came to believe that growth in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) requires being in close contact with other people. “To save souls”, he said, “you must bring them together”. He quit his hermit life and formed one of the first monasteries where brothers could live together, working, praying, and serving one another, and yes, sometimes irritating each other.
I am learning to give thanks for the “grace builders” God brings into my life to smooth rough edges. I know that as soon as one grace builder leaves my life another will soon take his place. But instead of thinking how that person really bothers me, I’m thinking more about how that person can cause me to grow in grace and become more loving. That person can grow my patience and reliance on God. I can give thanks to God for the friction and sparks that sometimes fly in relationships. He’s answering my prayer to make me more like His Son.
Grace and peace,
photo by Jeff Skipper