As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]. [Proverbs 27:17 (AMP)]
When I was growing up, the Sunday dinner roast would be placed in front of my father who would then reach for the bone-handled carving knife and honing rod. With dramatic flair, he would steel the slicing knife against the stropping iron before carving the meat. That steel rod really didn’t sharpen his knife; it merely realigned it. When a knife is used, its sharp edge begins to bend and catch on whatever is being cut. Running the blade along a honing steel pulls its edge back into an upright position so the knife can perform at its best. To actually sharpen a knife, a whetstone rubs away some of the knife’s metal and creates a brand new edge. The more often a knife is sharpened, the more it thins and the shorter its lifespan.
Just as there is a difference between a whetstone that grinds away part of a blade and a steel honing rod that realigns it, there is a difference between judging one another and offering constructive comments or correction. The conversation of good friends is more like a honing steel than a whetstone. It improves the person rather than wears him down. Sometimes, we’re called on to do a little honing of our friends. Rarely an easy task, we should proceed prayerfully and gently. Remember, we are merely smoothing out the rough edges, not grinding off any mettle.
While the knife has no choice about accepting that honing rod, we do. Solomon’s son Rehoboam received wise counsel about not burdening his people with heavy taxes. Not appreciating the honing, he chose to ask others until he got the answer he liked better. Unfortunately, his foolishness divided the kingdom of Israel. In contrast, when Moses’ father-in-law Jethro pointed out Moses’ error in thinking he could manage two million people by himself, he listened. Like a good honing steel, Jethro also offered excellent advice on how to delegate responsibility.
God puts wise people in our lives for a reason and it’s for more than encouragement. As Matthew Henry said, it is to “improve both others and ourselves…to provoke one another to love and to good works and so to make one another wiser and better.”
Like Rehoboam we can resist the honing and insist on doing it our way or, like Moses, we can accept the correction that comes from those who love us. Just as we are tested by the way we respond to praise, we are tested by the way we respond to constructive criticism. In both cases, we must remain humble and thankful.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the friends who realign us when we need some straightening!
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. [Norman Vincent Peale]