Proverbs 27:17

Iron Sharpens Iron

17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.


1. This is a common expression in the English language today. It is yet another example of Bible terms and expressions finding their way into our culture and everyday speech. (Feet of clay; etc.)

2. Solomon paints a visual for us that drives home the point.

The Illustration: Iron Sharpening Iron

1. The illustration is that of iron being scraped against iron in order to sharpen it.

2. It is a picture of a knife or perhaps a sword being sharpened by being scraped against another sword.

3. When the swords are scraped in the right manner, the metal scraping against the metal sharpens both swords.

4. During a battle, if a sword struck bluntly against armor or a metal shield, it would become dull.

5. Therefore, after a skirmish in the battle, soldiers of the same army would sharpen their swords by scraping them against each other.

6. One kind of motion would cause the sword to become dull (blunt strike for the purpose of killing the enemy) and another motion (careful scraping at the right angle) would sharpen both swords.

The Applications

1. Solomon’s point is that there is also a battle of ideas… ideological battles… a battle for the minds and hearts of people… and especially, a battle for the TRUTH.

a. The illustration was designed to be a graphic portrayal of some sort of a battle for ideas.

b. When one man has an idea or a thought, it is beneficial for that idea to be tested in the “battleground” of ideas.

c. Ideas can be debated and discussed.

d. There may be a clashing of opposing ideas.

2. Solomon’s point is that in the right environment, that is a good thing.

a. It is good because it sharpens both swords.

b. It causes each one to think about the concept from someone else’s vantage point.

c. It helps each one to think outside his own narrow box.

d. It forces each one to consider objections that he may not have thought of before.

e. It identifies weaknesses in an argument that may need to be fine-tuned.

3. The Republican candidates for president are debating their ideas for the future of our country.

a. They are supposed to be on the same team.

b. The debates should result in sharpening each one and clarifying each viewpoint.

c. The debates should bring to light the weakness and strong points of each candidate.

d. One debater will bring up an issue or a perspective that the others have not considered. That sharpens iron.

e. It forces each one to word his views carefully and fine tune the way he articulates his ideas.

f. In the end, it should be GOOD for the one whose ideas prevail.

g. That’s the way it should work. Unfortunately, there are other machinations operating in the background that hinder the good work – like backstabbing, slander, taking words out of context, digging up dirt from the past to smear the other guy, etc.

h. Instead of attempting to emphasize the truth and formulate the best policies, they seem bent on destroying the others.

i. Putting all that aside, if it were a pure contrast and clashing of ideas and policies, the debates would be good for the process.

j. Our proverb is considering a different environment than that. Solomon is speaking about men who are trying to sharpen the countenance of his FRIEND.

k. The candidates don’t act like friends.

4. As believers, we can sharpen one another in the faith.

a. The key of course is that this kind of a contest is among friends – those who are on the same team.

b. It is a clashing of ideas to discover to the truth… not to put down the other side.

c. It is a clashing of ideas to advance the truth.

d. We might challenge a brother on his explanation of a doctrine.

e. Acts 17:11 – We might question how something said is true—and how it lines up with other Scripture.
• With a right attitude, this can be profitable for all involved. It can sharpen our understanding of a truth.
• With a wrong attitude it can descend into controversy and division.
• The Bereans were not trying to play the game of “gotcha” with their Bible teachers. They genuinely wanted to know the truth and how it all fit together. Their attitude in questioning was good and beneficial.
• The “back and forth” between teacher and student (master and disciples) would be good for both.
• It would sharpen the teacher’s ability to articulate truth and it would sharpen the student’s understanding of the truth.

5. Solomon is clearly speaking of iron sharpening iron among friends. It speaks of an environment wherein both are on the same team, in the same army, and on the same side.

a. They are not out to destroy one another, but to help.

b. In that controlled environment, a little friction is actually good.

c. For example, athletes on the same team practice together to sharpen one another’s skills.

d. This is true of scholars, musicians, and artists.

e. The word “sharpen” in this illustration speaks of something very positive. A knife or sword is most effective when sharpened.

f. Each one in this kind of a debate is out to help the other… and ultimately, advance the truth of whatever subject is at hand.

g. Scientists debate issues—and hopefully not to gain notoriety for themselves, but to advance their science and get to the truth.

h. Workers for a business sometimes have planning sessions in which they put forth ideas in order to determine what is best for the company or the product line. They are all on the same team.

i. This kind of debate and discussion smoothes out our rough spots; it files down sharp edges; it makes us more fit.

6. This principle was not designed for hostile environments.

a. There is an element of truth here that is applicable even in hostile environments.

b. There is a clashing of ideologies and two different world views between the Muslim world and the West. Although the clash of ideas is certainly not designed to help the other side—it may occur by contrasting and comparing ideas.

c. There was a longstanding clash of worldviews during the cold war between the communism and democracy. The leaders of each side would assail their enemies verbally and the process may well have enabled each to fine tune their views and make the contrast clearer.

7. The danger comes when this principle is applied in the wrong environment, especially in the spiritual realm.

a. There is a great benefit when believers of LIKE precious faith discuss doctrine and truths from God’s Word.

b. When Spirit filled believers are hungering to know the truth, this kind of discussion is edifying and beneficial in coming to a better understanding of the truth.

c. But when those who are NOT of like precious faith enter in, or those with a wrong attitude, or even worse, when wolves enter in to the discussion or debate, it is NOT spiritually beneficial.

d. The goal should not be help sharpen those who oppose the truth.

e. This principle is seen in: II Chron. 19:2 – Jehu asked King Jehoshaphat, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD?” The answer, obviously is no!

f. It is a beneficial thing for members of the same body to discuss the deity of Christ, but when a twosome comes to your house on a Saturday morning from the Jehovah Witness group, that is not the setting Solomon had in mind.

8. “Iron sharpening iron” has been used as a ruse, a deceptive trick of the devil, to attack the truth.

a. The Bible is crystal clear on the issue of separation. We are to AVOID those who cause doctrinal divisions. (Rom. 12:17)

b. We are to “come out from among them” and “touch not the unclean thing”.

c. We are to have “no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

d. Thus, theological liberals, and others who may be saved but are promoting false doctrines should be AVOIDED… not engaged in debates.

e. False teachers never come to the table with a hunger and thirst for the truth and for righteousness. They come to the table to promote their agenda.

f. We are told to avoid sitting at that table. Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly or sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

g. Prov. 4:14-15 states that we are to “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. 15Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” You don’t want to be under their influence.

h. This is the route the neo evangelicals took a generation ago.
• They wanted to sound “broad minded” so they engaged in dialog with the theological liberals.
• They wrongly assumed that iron would sharpen iron and that such dialog would be beneficial to both parties: the truth would prevail and that the liberals would come to see the truth and hop on board.
• The sad reality is that when you violate the principle of separation, even if your intentions are good, the result is bad.
• When those promoting truth and those promoting error sit around the same table and accept one another as equals, the result is that bridges are built.
• And unfortunately, those bridges always end up becoming one way streets from truth to error, and not the other way around.

i. Dialog and fellowship with the charismatics did not bring the charismatics to the truth. It brought the charismatic movement into the evangelical world. Now charismatic worldly music and worship is the norm.

j. Dialog with Reformed Theologians did not bring many over to the Dispensational side. Rather, we have seen a one way bridge built—and Dispensationalists being influenced and overwhelmed by Reformed thinking.

9. “So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

a. In the proper setting, among friends, brethren of like precious faith, dialog, discussion, debate, and challenging one another is good and beneficial to all.

b. Prov. 13:20 – “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

c. Wise men have a GOOD influence on one another.

d. Therefore, walk with wise men. Talk with wise men. Listen to their wisdom. Discuss it. Question it with a good attitude. Iron will sharpen iron. Wise men will be a good influence in our lives and in our thinking.

e. Walking with fools also results in influence… but not for good.