"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
One of the many helpful things I've learnt from my friend Lara is how she approaches this concept of iron sharpening iron. I used to skim over this verse with a slight feeling of inadequacy, wondering a) If I could ever be good enough to 'sharpen' anybody and b) If I would ever be even slightly keen to be 'sharpened' myself...
As someone guilty of taking myself a bit too seriously, the idea of organised criticism doesn't sound like my idea of a 'sweet' friendship. Is this a type of competitive friendship reserved only for the super-competent super-Christians?
Talking about this idea of 'sharpening' friendships with Lara, she pointed out that actually the image of iron sharpening iron is quite an uncomfortable and intrusive one, involving a lot of friction. While it will be a painful process as those ugly, rough patches are chipped away, the end result will be much more beautiful.
Perhaps we need to accept that this is more of a bittersweet friendship: the 'chipping away' of our ugliness will be painful and uncomfortable, in order that we may begin the process of becoming more like Jesus.
This led me to think about whether my relationships really reflect any of this type of painful ‘sharpening’. We aren't called to be insulting - the Bible is so clear on how important unity and forgiveness is - but with close friends I think we are called to be honest and challenging.
This is a tricky area, and I think it will apply most helpfully to close friends that you spend a lot of time with and know well. When thinking this through for myself, I found it valuable to remember firstly that we are called to love others.
A book that I read a few years ago asked me this (paraphrased):
Is there was anyone that you love absolutely unconditionally, in whom you see every sin and failure but continue to love and look after? That even if after seeing their worst deceit and most selfish traits, it doesn't affect your care and love for them? Can you think of a person that you know you will continue to love and put first, regardless of their behaviour and failings?
I had a slightly horrible realisation that the only person I love with that kind of no-grudges-held love is... myself!
The interesting part is that we are actually called to love the people around us just like we love ourselves.
This means that actually, if we love people truly, we will see the 'bitter': e.g. their faults, failing and sinful ways, but we will more importantly want to bring out the 'sweet' - to see them become more like Jesus.
So... if we approach our closest relationships in this way, by loving with a sharpening, encouraging, honest and gritty kind of love, we can be used by Jesus to 'sharpen' our friends and make them closer to the person they were designed to be.
We can do this in the way we conduct our conversations, in our efforts to avoid gossip or incessant complaining. We can do this practically, by committing to pray for and with our close friends, by asking them honest and truthful questions about their walk with Jesus.
We can also pick them up on things that we think they could do better. This is the tricky and slightly uncomfortable one! However, having started slowly (and sometimes unsuccessfully) introducing a culture of loving 'sharpening' in my own relationships, there have been times where it has stung to be told that I could do x y and z better, but really I have hugely valued the honesty of having friends who love me enough that they want to see me become more like Jesus in every aspect of my life.
It has also showed me how much all of us struggle, and how short we all fall of the perfect standards. Learning more about my own faults and struggles alongside friends has made me more aware than ever of our need for a Saviour. As a result, I've started to try and invest more in really loving and knowing my friends well, learning to recognise their faults and failures along with their strengths and talents, and committing to wanting them to be better, more godly, to live a life more precious.
I've realised that actually bittersweet friendships will make you vulnerable, that the idea of others catching a glimpse of your selfish and complicated thoughts and heart will make you cringe - but actually the sweetness of being able to surrender these to Jesus and ask Him to exchange these old bitter ways for His new ways is hugely precious, and most importantly teaches us a little more about the magnitude of Jesus' grace.
So...will you become bitter or better?
Will you be the type of girl that sharpens your friends and points them to Jesus? Here's your challenge: to love people enough that you want to see them change.
To lead by example, by conducting your own life with honesty and integrity. To introduce a new level to your relationships by loving others just like you love yourself, reflecting a little bit of that great and unconditional love that our Father has for us.