Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, So one person sharpens another.
When two pieces of iron rub against each other, there is invariably friction and even sparks. Yet, that is the best way for iron to be sharpened. So we shouldn’t be surprised that this is exactly how two brothers (and sisters) in Christ are sharpened: Through constant friction and even sparks flying!
Now this is plainly written for us in Scripture, but we probably have not embraced this pathway to being super sharp as Christians (I know I naturally don’t!). I love envisioning the church as being full of peace and love, but I don’t expect (or want) the virtues of peace and love to be refined and sharpened through friction and sparks flying.
Nonetheless, real life attests to this truth, and we clearly see this in our close relationships – our marriages, our families, and the local church. In these “love” relationships, various things cause friction and sparks: Areas of sin and corruption in our individual lives, blind spots, differences in personality, maturity and culture, or even different preferences of what tastes good, looks good, or feels good! Even differences in opinion on the ideal room temperature of the house can be the cause of a World War in the home!
What then should we do when the flaws or limitations or preferences of others rub against us? I want to share three ways of responding – two bad and one good.
Wikipedia: Shylock is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice (c. 1600). Shylock is a Jew who lends money to his Christian rival Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio's flesh. When a bankrupt Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock demands the pound of flesh. This decision is fueled by his sense of revenge, for Antonio had previously insulted, physically assaulted and spat on him in the Rialto (stock exchange of Venice) dozens of times, defiled the "sacred" Jewish religion and had also inflicted massive financial losses on him. Meanwhile, Shylock's daughter, Jessica, falls in love with Antonio's friend Lorenzo and converts to Christianity, leaves Shylock's house and steals vast riches from him, which add to Shylock's rage and harden his resolve for revenge.
Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have an instinct for knowing good and evil. On top of that, we as Christians also have God’s Word to further affirm what God views as right and wrong. So as we interact closely with others in our family or the church (the local family of God), we can be legitimately hurt by the insensitive words or actions of others. And this is heightened when others engage in sins such as gossip or slander or other hurtful actions. In such cases, there will invariably be feelings of offense and hurt and distrust. The Bible urges us to seek for peace wherever possible, but in some cases, this might not be possible as it takes both parties to do this.
In such cases, the vengeful spirit of Shylock can grow and fester. The spirit of Shylock seeks to hold a grudge and seek for revenge over genuine hurts. And while seeking revenge can feel wholly justifiable on many levels, I must recognize that there is one sin that is much greater than all the legitimate hurts caused by others: To consider myself qualified to pass out judgment and seek vengeance (Matthew 7:1).
Seeking to pass out judgment and seeking for vengeance is incredibly dangerous as it touches the most sacred glory of God. God is serious about guarding His role as Judge. He is the only One who is qualified to execute justice, as He alone is perfectly righteous and just. So every inch of revenge within us, no matter the extent of wrong suffered, is sinful – and we must guard our hearts in this (Romans 12:19-21).
What must I do instead? At a minimum, I must forgive. I am not expected to trust everyone (John 2:24-25), but I am called to forgive everyone, no matter what. The heart of forgiveness is one that seeks to be increasingly merciful (James 2:13), looking at God as my Example of mercy (Luke 6:36; Luke 15). And as I fill my heart with mercy, I will be primed to grow in being like Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Wikipedia: Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective.. known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic..
Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous fictional detective character. He had an incredibly sharp brain that made amazingly accurate conclusions based on what he observed. He could observe someone for a few seconds, and then make astounding conclusions about that person.
He is often shown holding a magnifying glass, which is appropriate to how we can so often analyze every slightest action in others, and quickly make conclusions. Sherlocks abound in our homes and churches.
In the home, we can be Sherlocks towards our spouses – quick to spot the speckled flaws in their behavior, and quick to whip out our magnifying glasses to micro-analyze everything remotely suspicious and immediately assign evil intentions to it. All the while, we ascribe the best of intentions to our own flaws. This is a sure-fire way to remain blinded (Matthew 7:3-5).
This attitude could also extend towards our children. We can be sloppy at work and home, wasting oodles of time surfing the internet and social media, and being undisciplined spiritually with our moods and our eyes and tongues. But yet we can be tough on our children, berating and scolding them to always do the right things, and wanting them to be properly disciplined in their schoolwork and chores. We shouldn’t then be surprised when this hypocritical lifestyle results in unhappy/broken marriages and lost children.
We find this Sherlock spirit in the church too. In many charismatic and Pentecostal circles, there are the extremes where some (and I have found them mostly to be women) claim to have a prophetic gift of discerning spirits. In my experience, they are just Sherlocks – having some human ability to “read” people, and (like most Charismatic healers) thriving off the power of suggestion. I have seen zero supernatural power in 99% of the so-called healers and prophets today. But what’s even worse, such people use their soulish gift to become Sherlock overlords in their church and hurt the weak-minded.
But even in a church like ours where we guard against such obvious charlatans, we can become Sherlocks to others in the church. We can quickly classify people into negative categories based on culture or personality or economic status.
Things such as:
“He’s a Gujurati so he’s like this,” or
“He’s an African so he’s like that,” or
“All those people who grew up in that part of the world are like this,” or
“That family has so much money so they’re like that.”
All these ways of categorizing people and being quick to infer underlying motives is a massive breeding ground for the evil Sherlock spirit.
We can sit around in our living rooms and dinner tables and assess other families – and our children will pick this up and be just like that when they grow up and leave the home. And we can also do that subtly (using all the right religious language) with others who visit us, secretly desiring to build human allegiances, and seeking to draw others to ourselves (Acts 20:29-30).
And we justify all of it by saying that we need to have spiritual discernment. This is what makes this Sherlock spirit especially dangerous. To be sure, the human ability to assess others can be used for good. But we must not automatically call it a spiritual gift.
The spiritual gift of discernment is useful to God only if one has a shepherd’s heart.
John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
This verse shows me the unique mark of a shepherd, and how this spirit is different from the Shylock and Sherlock spirit. A shepherd might have been hurt by others. And a shepherd might also have the personality type of a Sherlock Holmes, with incredible abilities to read the personalities of other people intuitively and instinctively. But here’s what sets a shepherd apart: They lay down their lives for others.
This can seem completely counter-intuitive, especially when we see the flaws in others and when we are rubbed the wrong way. But let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise (1 Corinthians 3:18). The pathway to Divine wisdom is by becoming foolish to the world’s way of thinking, and Jesus is our Example.
Jesus was constantly hurt by others, and He saw through people because He knew how He Himself was tempted. But He was the ultimate Good Shepherd, choosing instead to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). And He did not judge while here on earth, even though He was fully qualified to judge.
Jesus saw through Judas and His love for money. He saw through the Pharisees and all their religious activities. He did not entrust Himself to anyone because He knew what was in the heart of man (John 2:24-25). But He was nonetheless the Good Shepherd for all, willingly laying down His life for all. So He was humble and gentle to those who were weary (Matthew 11:29), and ruthless to the hypocritical Pharisees and greedy moneychangers, and tough on the rich young ruler. He responded differently to various kinds of people, but He was the Good Shepherd to all, laying down His life for them all.
Note: This spirit of a shepherd is not just for the elders or leaders of the home and church. Every single person in the home and church must have a shepherd’s heart – because that is the heart of their Master. Disciples of Jesus must have hearts that seek to lay down their lives for others.
This is a great need indeed: Disciples who are under-shepherds in laying down their lives for others, following in the footsteps of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, So one person sharpens another.
Dear Lord Jesus, please help me focus on the need for my own sharpening, knowing that it often comes when others rub abrasively against me.
Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to watch out for the voice of Shylock crying out for vengeance.
Dear Lord Jesus, please help me watch out for the voice of Sherlock seeking to judge but not tend to and care for.
Dear Lord Jesus, please help me pay close attention to the still small gentle voice of Jesus saying, “Follow Me in being a shepherd. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and lay down your life for the sake of others! Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends.” (Luke 9: 23; John 15:13).