Compared to life on a ship, our previous form of living seems isolated, independent, compartmentalized. This form of intense community living somehow feels more Biblical. It is far more deeply challenging, on every level, to live, work, eat, sleep, play, worship, and breathe in close quarters with 450 other people!
Living in community forces us into growth experiences that we could easily avoid in our past mode of living.
You cannot hold a grudge in community. You are going to deal with your interpersonal issues when you see your ‘problem person’ at every turn! And that is a good thing! Back home, I could just stuff down my hurt and anger, and as long as I only had to deal with that difficult person for just a few hours per day at work or a few hours per week at church — no problem!
But in close community, when you see the person you’re mad at everywhere you turn, you have to deal with it! You are going to have to face your issues in community, and that is something that God likes. Hidden issues are not a fruit of the Spirit. Loving confrontation is.
Living in community forces hard discussions, honesty, and reconciliation. I’ve never been more humiliated by others, more embarrassed by my own actions and words, more angry at people, more upset by the way I have been treated by others — more upset at myself by the ways that I have treated others — than I have been here.
But you know what else? I’ve never had more honest, open, confrontational and yet reconciliatory conversations than I have had here. I am convinced that this is more the way life is meant to be lived and shared than in the safe, quarantined, sterile isolation of my previous mode of living.
We are going to deal with our junk here — and that is a good thing.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
For years, I’ve read that verse in the context of Christian brotherhood — you know, me and 2-3 other guys who love the Lord and are helping each other grow in Christ… The verse just sounds so manly (“iron”) and masculine (“sharpening iron”!)… You know, like
“Yeah! We’re Christian men, and we love God, and we’re helping each other grow stronger in Christ — YEAH!” (insert grunting noises)
I’ve always [mis]read that verse as a cool, fun, encouraging — even comforting — verse about the happy growth that we enjoy in Christian community…
Then it dawned on me… how, exactly, does iron sharpen iron?
Well, it’s anything but fun and comforting for the iron being sharpened. It’s two heavy and equally-powerful objects scrubbing against each other with great friction until all the barbed and jagged edges are grinded off through intense effort and pressure and heat and… friction!
The rough edges of one piece of iron scrub mercilessly against the rough edges of the other, and the stuff that doesn’t belong on either one goes flying off in every direction!
The verse might as well have said,
- “As sand-paper smooths out rough wood…” or
- “As a paint chipper scrapes away at old paint…” or
- “As a chisel hews away at stone…” or
- “As a wire-brush scrubs away rust…” or
- for our awesome Deckies: “As a needle gun scaler chips away paint from the hull…”
Just as all these things above happen… “so one Christian’s life smooths, scrapes, hews, scrubs, and chips away at the rough and jagged and imbalanced and rusted edges of another’s.”
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” For your ladies, don’t feel left out. “Man” here is an inclusive term, meaning “mankind”. One translation I saw uses the word “friend” in the place of “man”, which I think gives it even more meaning.
This is what friends do for each other. Brothers and Sisters. Siblings in Christ. Comrades. Co-laborers in Jesus’ Name. This is what we do: we rub up against each other with intense force — with huge amounts of friction.
- It is painful.
- It is uncomfortable.
- It hurts.
- It’s messy and it’s complicated.
- And it is God’s good plan for us as members of His family.
It is what He is using during this season of our lives to smooth out our rough edges. To chip away at our barbs and jaggedness and imbalances and rustiness.
He is sharpening us, together. And as everyone who works in the Operating Room knows, a blunt or dull blade is a worthless and dangerous tool. It does more harm than good to the patient. But a sharpened and strengthened blade is an instrument of precision and excellence in a master surgeon’s hand, bringing deliverance and wholeness to the patient.