Iron sharpens iron. This metaphor is from Proverbs 27:17, referencing the positive effects of relationships (so one person sharpens another). Relationship is God’s message, and it is through relationships that He leads us to perfect our love for Him and others. But here on earth, God reaches us through relationship, and He works through redemptive process. He works through conflicts that occur in all relationships, through the process of repentance and restoration, to transform us towards Him.
We are drawn to relationship for love and communion. Community and communion are a natural human desire and part of our experience before the fall. Relationship allows the Spirit to be actively present, as stated in Matthew 18:20. Relationships benefit us by providing encouragement, mentoring and modeling of good behavior. Relationships also provide support and correction towards Godly pursuits and service. They allow us to practice Galatians 6:2, to carry one another’s burdens.
The second point of the proverb is less obvious, but describes the workings of the Spirit using a relationship’s conflict and its restoration. Conflicts in relationships are important events that can lead to spiritual growth. As trials and suffering can be transformative, relational conflicts, although painful, can be used by the Spirit towards sanctification.
Following the metaphor, sharpening is both destructive and creative. Transformation of imperfect iron blades occurs at the contact point between the blades as they grind each other’s edges. This contact destroys the blades’ original edges as they are recreated as new and sharper.
In relationship conflicts, a similar process occurs, but the destructive grinding between people can produce growth and transformation. Conflicts can highlight imperfections in either person. The Spirit can expose parts of us that are selfish, proud or unsurrendered to Christ. This can lead either to a relational impasse or a process of reconciliation. With commitment of will and the Spirit’s help, those who are in Christ can be convicted, humbled and brought to repentance. We can choose to grow, and ask for forgiveness and the relationship can be restored to a healthier and Godlier intimacy. Anyone who has argued and fought in marriage or other meaningful relationship can appreciate that after forgiveness and restoration, the relationship deepens.
Love is embodied through intimate attachments. Love is demonstrated in surrender and restoration, allowed by forgiveness. Not only do relationships enhance communion, their conflicts with restoration are embodiments of God’s redemptive work through Christ. Relationships, with their attachments and conflicts, are a vehicle for restoration and transformation, used by the Spirit to create and recreate us to a new creature, more perfect in Christ.