What a blessing it is to have godly accountability - especially between men. Today's proverb uses a very masculine picture to show how two men can be of great blessing to each other. That picture is of iron sharpening iron. You have a picture of two pieces of iron - most likely that of a pair of swords or other sharp instruments. As these two pieces of iron are rubbed against one another they have the affect of sharpening each other. The friction and the strengths of each wear away the edge on the other - and the result is a sharpened blade. As this process goes on there usually are sparks - but in the end both pieces of iron are benefited as they knock off the rough and unsharpened edges of each other.
We are then introduced in the second part of this proverb to the fact that in the same way that iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. This is all about a brother helping a brother in an accountability relationship. This is something that I truly believe is indicative of manly relationships. It is not that women should not be accountable to each other - they should. But . . . it is usually the men that resemble iron sharpening iron in these relationships.
Men want manly relationships. This is why you do not see guys lined up with other guys going to see a romantic comedy - but you do see them getting ready to see a war movie or a sports movie. Guys don't mind encouraging each other towards spiritual maturity - but they want to do it iron to iron! They want someone to challenge them to be a man of God. They do not want to polish each other - they want iron to iron, spark-throwing, metal-grinding imput into their lives. Too often we want to take the manliness out of such relationships - and we err in doing so.
Over the years I've had a number of accountability relationships with other men. We meet beforehand to talk about what we want to address in these times. The ones that have been the most helpful are the ones where we don't mind being pretty blunt with each other. We are willing to look the other guy in the eye and tell him he is blowing it - and that he needs to suck it up and be a man in regard to some things. These are the kinds of relationships where we call each other higher - and we are not afraid to confront each other about sin in our lives. At times there is even a fox-hole mentality that we are fighting together for the things of the Lord - and we will stand shoulder to shoulder against the enemy. We will go out and chase down a brother who is going out into sin. We'll hunt our brothers down and ask them honest questions. "What are you doing!?" or "Where are you going, man!?" are often the kind of things we ask. We speak brutal truth - letting our brother know where his actions are taking him - and that we do not want to see him messed up as a result.
These are relationships that have sparks fly - not in some kind of physical confrontation where someone gets beat up in the process. But there are sparks flying as we go to battle for each other. Sparks fly as we say what might seem as offensive things - but to a brother who needs to hear them - they are like music to our ears. Consider Nathan the prophet who shares a story of gross injustice. He shares with David, who is a former shepherd, about a man who takes a man's lamb and kills it for supper - rather than take one of his own flock to feed a visitor. David, in manly fashion, rises incensed by the injustice! He flashes with anger and rage calling for this man to be punished for his actions. Nathan has just stoked the manly vigor of David - and watched his eyes filled with fire! Then comes the sparks as iron touches iron. "David, YOU are the man!" David is the one who took another man's wife and committed adultery. Pretty strong stuff - a truly manly confrontation! Yet it is one that saved David's life - and led him back through repentance and confession of sin to God.
Such relationships are rare - but they are wonderful. Men who have them are truly blessed by the fact that a brother will confront them in sin. They will be protected - and sharpened by such relationships. They will also be protected from their own tendencies toward sinfulness. If you have an iron sharpening iron relationship - be grateful to God for it. If you do not have one - cry out to God for one. Then go and look for brothers who will stand with you - and who even have the strength to confront your sin to your face. Sparks may fly - but in the end you will both wind up much sharper instruments in the hands of God!