Your 50 Favorite Proverbs: #14 The Sharpest Tool in the Shed

October 2014 Your 50 Favorite Proverbs | Liz Curtis Higgs

This week’s verse is short, sweet, and…um, sharp. Not only will we learn a bit about filing, whetting, and sanding; we’ll also discover why talking with a friend face-to-face can make all the difference.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

"As iron sharpens iron..." Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron,… Proverbs 27:17

I’ve quoted this verse for years, as if I knew what I was talking about. But the truth is, I’ve never even met a blacksmith and, until today, had no idea how this sharpening business works.

Now, I do. In 20 seconds, you will too.

The Word tells us, “iron is made sharp with iron” (NLV), a process that begins with a standard metal file and an iron blade.

The iron blade is propped on a support—say, a small wooden block—then the metal file is drawn across the edge of the blade in slow, measured strokes, until a sharp, rough edge is revealed.

Next, the “iron is whetted” (WYC), using a small amount of oil on a whetstone. Rubbing the iron blade against the oiled stone smoothes away the rough edge, leaving the blade polished and sharper still.

Then, “in the same way that iron sharpens iron” (VOICE), heavy-duty sandpaper is cautiously smoothed along both sides of the iron blade’s edge. This blends the edge with the rest of the blade and makes the finished product even sharper.

Handle with care, beloved.

"As iron sharpens iron,..." Proverbs 27:17

Sharp, pointy objects do a fine job of slicing bread for a meal. But they also can pierce our hearts and pry us open: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

The Hebrew word here, barzel, literally means “iron tool.” When we use our words like swords, we’re called to follow the Lord’s example:

  • Instead of cutting apart, open gently.
  • Instead of rubbing the wrong way, polish.
  • Instead of inflicting new wounds, bind old ones.

This is no wooden toy we’re swinging through the air. God’s Word is powerful. It can and will change lives. Change us. Change everything.

" one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

…so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Not just any person. The Hebrew word rea means “friend, companion, fellow, neighbor.” Someone we know well. Someone we care about.

Our goal as believers is to hone one another, so we become sharper and more effective in our faith. People opposed to God may “sharpen their tongues like swords” (Psalm 64:3), but those of us who love Him are called to “improve each other” (NCV).

Three centuries ago, Matthew Henry said, “Wise and profitable discourse sharpens men’s wits.” Still true today. Conversation—one-on-one, eye-to-eye—accomplishes far more than texting, tweeting, leaving messages, or sending emails.

After all, our faces talk too. Eyebrows rise with surprise or furrow with confusion. Mouths smile, frown, twist. Noses wrinkle. The Hebrew word paneh means “face.” Literally, “friends sharpen each other’s faces” (CEB). We smooth away the rough spots not with sandpaper, but with truth. We “whetteth the face” (WYC) of a friend not with a stone, but with a timely word.

The end result is better “character” (CJB) and sharper “minds” (CEV). Friends are meant to encourage one another and cheer each other on, but sometimes we have to say the hard things.


" one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

As a new Christian, I began dating a man who I knew, deep down, was not God’s choice for me. But I was single. He was handsome. I was 30. He was available. How could this be a bad thing?

I met with a close friend to pray, fearful of what she might say. She said it anyway. “This relationship needs to end, Liz.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But it was what I needed to hear.

We prayed, we wept, then I followed her godly advice. So hard. Still, “wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6). They’re meant to help, to heal.

She told me the truth because she loved me, and because she loved the Lord, who urges us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

A spiritual sparring partner: rare, wonderful, necessary.
Do you have one? Is it time for you to be one?

Your 50 Favorite Proverbs on Pinterest | Liz Curtis Higgs

Now it’s your turn

  • How has another believer sharpened your faith?

Please take a moment to Post a Comment below. I read every one and respond whenever I can. The best reason to comment is to “spur on” one another!

I’m so glad it’s finally October. Best. Month. Ever. Thanks for sharing a few minutes with me each week!

Your grateful sister, Liz
@LizCurtisHiggs #50Proverbs

P.S. Your Printable of Proverbs 27:17 awaits you, as well as colorful pins to share on Pinterest.

BibleGateway Blogger Grid I love being part of (in)courage! I am honored to write for P31 Ministries

Looking for a women’s Bible study to prepare everyone’s heart for the holidays?
See if this bestseller might be a good fit:

The Women of Christmas
4 weeks / 8 weeks
Free Leader’s Guide

18 Responses to Your 50 Favorite Proverbs: #14 The Sharpest Tool in the Shed

  1. Phyllis Eyerkuss October 1, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    I was so depressed becuse my daughter had pushed me out of her life. A friend called and prayed for me – then she called back and encouraged me – I wanted no part of it. She called back a third time because good friends don’t walk away and told me when she prayed God gave her a vision. There were 2 chairs – in one was my daughter and in the other one was the Lord. He had so much He wanted to do with me and for me, but I wouldn’t take my eyes off my daughter. That was a Rhema Word for me and it changed my life forever.

  2. Laurie Staats October 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you for your wonderful devotion. I said prayer of gratitude for your wonderful husband. I’m so glad that you were able to listen to the hard words of your friend and find the blessing that God had in store for your life. God had good plans for you and I thank him for you often. I can’t wait to see you next June at Ladies Days!

  3. jaime October 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    My husband is generally the person who sharpens me the most. He knows me well enough to chastise me before I get into trouble. I may not always want to hear it but I always need to hear it. God gave me my husband and I thank Him everyday.

  4. Mary Kay October 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    I love your teaching here, and appreciate your points about face-to-face and our faces interacting. So true. (And my preferred way.) And I’ve found much sharpening from reading–others and books.

    Watching my dear friend respond with love and patience when she had obvious reason to be hurt by someone and critical in response was a faith-sharpening experience.

    And Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life spoke truth to me, “It’s not about you” and the fact that God ordered our lives & our pasts rocked my world. Like a child, I had believed childhood abuse was about me–me failing the standard others and God had for me. When I was a new Christian, I was (still am!) grateful to learn of God’s love for me “in spite of.” But learning He allowed the “in spite of” for a reason, not punishment–life changing.

    Thanks, as always, Liz, for your studies and sharing your insights. God bless, my dear sister.

  5. Terry October 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    As the daughter of a blacksmith, I appreciated your analogy. I can still close my eyes and see the sparks fly from the fire and smell the unique odor of red hot iron.
    Dad has been gone for many a year, but memories are still with me.

  6. Lisa White October 1, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    My college roommate once questioned me, “What’s sharper than a two-edged sword?” I had no idea. Her reply? My tongue! I have remembered that through these many years. My tongue is greatly tamed and I can give that gentle answer more often than not now, all thanks to a “sharpening” I received as a freshman in Bible College.

  7. Susanne Whirley October 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    I am blessed to have long time friends who are honest with me but do so out of care and concern as I would be with them.

  8. Tish October 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    Thank you so much for this awesome devotion, many times we give may our friends pats answers because the truth is so difficult. But love overcomes fear & with the Lords help we can be honest & truthful. You are a beautiful spirit filled lady, I thank God for your life. <3

  9. Christina Anderson October 2, 2014 at 12:22 am #

    As a little girl and as a teenager I watched my dad sharpen knives on a whetstone. he taught me how to do the same. And as he sharpened knives he shared his great, loving wisdom and faith with me. My dad never raised his voice, never in anger, never in condemnation. But when he spoke we all listened. His insights were as sharp as any blade. I adored my dad and the day he died was the saddest day in my life. I know I will meet him again in Heaven, look into those “sharp” loving eyes, and listen again to that deep, wise voice. Some days I can’t wait!

  10. Susan Gruener October 2, 2014 at 1:24 am #

    I’ve used this verse several times too, Liz, and I so appreciated you teaching us more about sharpening iron! I have three close friends who help keep me ‘sharpened’, and I appreciate them all. I hope I do the same for them. Even our birthdays are all close together and once a year we celebrate with a ‘birthday’ dinner at a restaurant together. Nothing like good friends – to sharpen us and celebrate with!
    I sure love reading all your posts on these 50 favorite Proverbs! Can we do 100 instead?! 😉
    May you be blessed abundantly!

  11. Debbie Deaven October 2, 2014 at 7:28 am #

    I am a WOP Coor . Of the Penn Del district under Ruth Puleo . Our church has opened a campus church & just formes a 2 nd . WOP . Our established WOP is helping to guide , direct, support and pray for new WOP formed . Your scripture today hit the nail on the head . Pray that the established WOP follows GoD leading and the newly formed does the same . I enjoy and appreciate for weekly bible studies . Come back to Hershey soon ! Love , debbie

  12. Elizabeth Hoagland October 2, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Good morning, Liz! This is one of my favorite verses. I refer to it frequently, in fact I’m going to forward your post to my Bible study girls. I believe meeting with others, especially mentors, is the key to our very survival. YOU do this for so many of us AND I’m blessed to have other buddies in Bible study who do this for me as well. My newest small group is now getting a taste of this. I always say, “Friends are cheaper than therapy”, but GODLY friends are priceless. May we continue to “sharpen one another to become more effective in our faith…” Bravo, Liz! Love you, Elizabeth xoxoxo

  13. Kathy October 2, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Hey chicks! How are you this beautiful October morning! Oh Liz! I love your message today! I love your comment about txt, tweets, leaving messages, and emailing-it’s so much better in person! Face to face, that’s when you see your friends eyes and know you have touched her life by ministering the love of The Lord . My sisters in Christ, are so endearing to me. I want to be there for them, as they are there for me, reaching out to each other. I so respect your thoughts and teaching Liz, you just know how to say it!

  14. Julie Sunne October 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    I am blessed to have a close friend who loves the Lord and is committed to being in Scripture. Her and I and a more seasoned lady (mentor) have decided to begin meeting once a week to dig deep into the Scripture to find God’s truth about certain cultural and personal issues and topics. I can’t wait!

  15. Linda@Creekside October 2, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    Your teaching is spot on, enlarging my borders. A breath of fresh air here, Liz. And I thank you … and all those who’ve sharpened my rough edges along the way!

  16. Brandi Luiz October 4, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    When I thought what I was doing was right but against the will of God, a godly friend spoke truth to me. It changed my life. Had she not, I would not be where I am today.

  17. Phyllis Burroughs October 5, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    God gave me a wonderful mentor who loves me as much as it is possible for one friend to love another. As I sat in her counseling office almost ten yrs. ago the truth she shared with me completely changed my life. She tells me when I need correction and sometimes it hurts, but I know she has my best interest in mind. God has truly loved and blessed me through her.
    I am a sponsor to four ladies now and I have to speak truth in love to them and sometimes it is hard. I love them all very much and I want to see them step out into the deep with Christ.

  18. kim October 8, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    I am having really rough time at work. I have an amazing team lead. She always has a kind word and prays for me daily.