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Iron Sharpens Iron

May 18, 2021

Last month, I read the book of Proverbs with a group of friends—one chapter each day.

I’ve done this many times in the past, but every time I come back to Proverbs, I come away with something new. I read a verse I’ve read hundreds of times, but at each reading, I have the chance to see it from a new perspective.

This month, this happened with Proverbs 27:17:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”


I’ve quoted this verse many times. In fact, I’ve even referenced it in a previous blog about friendship. But when I read this verse this past month, I saw it in a different way. I often think about a person making another person better, but the imagery of iron sharpening iron became bolder and clearer. 

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen iron sharpen iron, but I have sharpened a knife before, and I imagine the process is similar. The act of metal grinding against metal sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, and as you bear the knife down to sharpen it, you are actually taking some of it off in order to form a sharper edge. To make the knife more effective, some of the outer surface of the knife has to come away. 

If you compare this perspective of iron sharpening iron to our relationships, you’re probably not going to come away thinking about the most encouraging person in your life (though we all need encouragement!). However, you will gain a valuable image of a person willing to create friction in a way that makes you better and more useful. 

We all need people in our lives who sharpen us in this way. The process is uncomfortable, and sometimes, it’s painful. But when you open yourself up to this, you’ll end up liking the results.

I’m so grateful for my wife Laura. She sharpens me more than anyone else in this world. She will lovingly point out to me when I need to do something I don’t want to do or when I need to have a conversation I don’t want to have. When I take her advice, I am better for it, but it’s an uncomfortable process to get there.

At work, I’ve purposefully put people around me who will sharpen me as I lead. As of this month, Bart Newman is ADDO’s new president. We are so excited to have him on our team! I brought Bart on fully knowing that our whole team will be challenged and pushed in ways we haven’t been before. I know some of it we won’t enjoy, but I also know that our company as a whole will be better for it. 

I also intentionally made Elizabeth Jay our Chief of Staff at ADDO. Her role is to carry out and implement ADDO’s vision, and this means she’s often offering me helpful advice and correction. She is gifted at sharpening me and the rest of the team as we pursue our collective goal to inspire people today to impact tomorrow.

The process of sharpening is not fun, but it is effective. It’s important to keep this perspective the next time you receive a piece of advice or criticism that is difficult to hear. Remember, sharpening will always make you better.


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