My dad told me something I thought was strange. As I sawed on a little nylon rope with my pocketknife, he said, “You know, a dull knife will cut you.” What he said did not make sense at the time, but a few months later I learned the truth of his words, first-hand. While trying to force that still dull blade through a piece of wood, the blade slipped and jabbed my hand. I learned a bloody lesson the hard way.
So, why is a dull knife dangerous? A dull blade requires more pressure to cut, which increases the likelihood that the knife will slip with great force behind it, cutting or stabbing whatever it crosses.
If you think that seems like a contradiction, think about this: Not only will dull knives cut you, but only hard things like stone or steel can make them sharp. A knife blade will only get sharp when forced at the proper angle along a piece of stone or steel. The pressure and friction on the stone sharpens the knife.
You may be thinking, “OK, this is not a shop class, so where are you going with this?”
God used the truth that abrasive friction was necessary to sharpen knives, so we could learn the biblical principle: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When one piece of iron is rubbed with force against another, it shapes and sharpens it.
First, the Lord wants you to know that people who surround you will influence you, for better or worse. Your family, friends and companions can make you sharp or dull.
Scripture encourages us to make and be good companions: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Your friends affect you, your attitudes, your behavior, your language, your values, your life and the level of your achievement.
You will be blessed if you surround yourself with friends who encourage and bring out the best in you. There are some people you can spend time with, who will make you a better person. My wife, Pat, is the most influential person in shaping my thinking, attitude and actions. My children have contributed greatly to help me be a better person. Most of my friends, whether they realize it or not, encourage me to do better.
A second truth you can learn from this biblical principle is that it takes pressure, friction, and even a little heat, to make you sharp. Knives cannot be sharpened without abrasive resistance. Cutting warm butter will not sharpen a knife. It takes friction to knock off the rough, dull edges of the blade, rendering it sharp and useful.
Similarly, like “iron on iron,” you need friends who will expose your hypocrisy, correct your poor habits, confront your laziness and challenge your sloppy thinking. This course of action may produce friction and generate heat, but it will make you sharper, safer and more useable to God and will render you a blessing to others.
The third lesson is that, just as friends may sharpen you, it is probable that others may dull your blade and make you less effective. Through the years I have had companions who soiled my testimony and encouraged me to do the wrong things. These are ones you need to avoid like the plague. God’s warning is clear and true: “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
These verses literally came true for me when I got a job at a DDT plant following high school graduation. Daily, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder, with a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed young man. Growing up, I had mostly avoided the habit of using curse words. This came from no inner goodness on my part, as much as from a hatred of the soap my mom used to wash my mouth when she heard dirty words slip out. A month into this job, listening to my co-worker spew out curse words in every sentence, every day, affected me. I began to notice a change in myself, when a little peeved, curse words sprang to my mind and were right on my tongue. It was all I could do to keep from using the obscenities that were readily available. I even had nightmares riddled with profanity. Paul warned, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Thankfully, I only worked three months with the potty-mouthed guy, but it took a few years to rid my mind of the verbal filth lodged there.
It is for these very reasons every believer needs to be active in a local church of loving people. Each of us is changed for the better by regular exposure to godly folks. God commands His people: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This means, if you want to please God, you must be regular and active in your local church. It also puts the lie to those who say, “I don’t need the church! I can live just as well for Jesus at home.” No, friend, you cannot. You need to spend time with God’s people and sharpen your life.
Consider who and how you can encourage, stimulate and bless. People who need Jesus as Savior, and others who need encouragement to serve Him in life, are all around you. If you will invest time and energy with good people, it will sharpen you for life. Iron sharpens iron—one man sharpens another—so you don’t have to be a dull blade. Pray for people with whom you can invest your life—then do it—for the glory of God. Remember, a dull knife will cut you but God has a better plan!