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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Iron Sharpens Iron, so Encourage One Another

As Christians, but more generally as human beings, we can tend to get together and grumble with our friends and family about what is not happening in our lives, what results we are not seeing, and the needs that have not been met.  Now, I want to mention that it is good to gather with friends; in fact, I believe it is God-ordained.  However, it isn't spending the time well if everyone walks away feeling as bad as they did before.  What can we do to make the troubled times easier for our friends?  If suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5: 3-5) what can we do to help each other bear those fruits in our lives?
The Bible says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another," (Proverbs 27: 17 NIV 2010).  Iron was one of the hardest substances available to the common man in the ancient world, and its strange physical properties were readily used as metaphors for human behavior.  Iron scraping iron could produce an extremely hard, sharp edge and rid things of brittle rust; similarly, one person's good counsel and leadership by example can help others remove bad habits and damaging character flaws from their lives.  Iron pounding heated iron could produce any number of shapes, all harder than the material before it was heated; similarly, discipline, and yes, persecution from others can prepare a person for tough jobs and struggles they may encounter in the future.

I am not suggesting that we persecute each other to "toughen each other up," but I think it is a good habit to think of how we can build each other up.  Here are a few things we should think about doing to "sharpen" each others' faith, so that everyone feels refreshed, and I hope strengthened to face their troubles.

  • Pray together.  It isn't enough to just nod your head in agreement that your friends' troubles are bad.  Pray with them!  Jesus said, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them," (Matthew 18: 20 NIV 2010).  There is nothing more powerful than offering to help them get our Advocate involved in resolving their problem (see John 14: 15-17; 1 John 2: 1-2).
  • Remind them of God's power and provision.  When we are presently struggling, those troubles tend to consume all of our thinking and fill up our view.  We can't remember what used to bring us hope and joy.  Be a friend to a struggling friend by reminding that person of the miracles you have witnessed together, and the times of joy and celebration you have shared.  Paul wrote to struggling Christians, reminding them of how far they had already come with God, so that they would feel encouraged to stay the course (see, for instance 1 Corinthians 1 : 4-9).
  • Give them a gift that meets a deep need.  When some of the early prophets were hungry, people welcomed them into their homes and fed them; when one early church member needed a cloak, another who had an extra, gave it to him.  When David was depressed, Johnathan showed up and encouraged him.  We can do something similar by preparing a meal for an elder who lives alone; offering to babysit someone's children for an evening; or mailing a friendly letter for no particular reason except to say "hello."  I am not saying that we should give gifts expecting reciprocation, nor that we should do things out of a condescending sense of charity or personal importance.  The goal is to stave off depression, worry, or physical needs in your friend, which can, like rust, tear down their strength and bring their faith to the breaking point. 
  • Give truthful counsel.  If a friend asks for advice, tell the truth,  particularly that which is derived from many sources in the Bible, and temper it with love.  Not all good and truthful advice feels like affirmation; as the proverb goes, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses," (Proverbs 27: 6 NIV 2010).  A metalsmith polishes off rust and lifts his hammer to remove flaws and direct the metal toward its strengths.  Our counsel should be the kind used by God for the same end--to build up and discipline a believer toward good behavior and victorious living.  Since all good counsel truly comes from the Lord (Proverbs 8: 14), we should always present it with the gentleness and humility that comes from listening to the One who has counseled us.
 I am sure there are more things that can be done to "sharpen" each other's faith.  If you think of any, I welcome you to share them in the comments section.  In fact, by sharing them, you will be doing just that.

Until next time, I want to encourage you to stay savvy, and work to sharpen your faith, so that no attacks from Satan can harm you.  Be built up!