When I was in high school, I competed on my debate team. Each day after school, the team would congregate in the room of our coach and teacher, Mr. Zane Harwell. He would pit us against each other. We argued about everything. On a Monday, you might find yourself arguing against your teammate for something you found reprehensible, and on Tuesday arguing with the same teammate against the very thing you defended the day before. Mr. Harwell’s goal was not to cause division in his team. Instead it was to increase the acumen of each member of that team. He was sharpening one sword with another. Because each of us loved the sport, those battles would extend beyond Harwell’s room. We found ourselves on Friday or Saturday nights discussing and debating all manner of news stories, social ideas, scientific theories, political positions, and the best flavors of ice cream, as our dates (if we had one) suffered in polite silence. Nothing was off limits. Our powers at critical thinking grew exponentially. Our skills at communication matured. Harwell knew what he was doing.
I don’t know if Zane knew it or not, but his strategy was biblical. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 27:17 that just like iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. The skills of one person will bolster the knowledge of another, and vice versa. This is a proverb not only of strength, but of discipleship within a community. Every person in a Christian community has both the opportunity to sharpen a fellow Christian, as well as to be sharpened by one. Together, we make each other stronger. Our powers grow, our thinking matures, our effectiveness improves, and our impact changes the world around us. We become stronger both individually, and as a team.
This is why the early christians spent so much time in community praying together, breaking bread together, teaching, and being taught (Acts 2:42-47). It is this sharpening of one another that allows us to follow the command of the writer of Hebrews, where we are told to stir one another up to love and good works, and to encourage one another as the day approaches (Hebrews 20:24-25).
Who are you sharpening, and who is sharpening you?