Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
(Do) not (forsake) the assembling together of ourselves as is the custom with some…(Hebrews 10:25).
Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17).
However, by coupling it with the Proverbs verse, my inclination is, rather, to encourage, to celebrate, even, “assembling together.”
But not just in some brick and mortar building under a denominational banner, rather, as the real church, with Christ at the head, a living, breathing, talking, walking (falling down and getting up again), born-again, Spirit-filled body of believers who, whenever gathered together here and/or from afar have the extraordinary opportunity to encourage, inspire, and guide each other to come closer to God–and to “mine” the nuggets of truth found in His presence.
As Jesus put it, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
And Jesus is all about revealing truth.
Indeed, His whole life on earth was a revelation of the ultimate truth about God: love. Check it out.
So when it comes to a good analogy for both the need for and the value of fellowship, I tend to favor the latter verse. For, in my view, the comparison of fellowship to “iron sharpening iron” is one of the best comparisons discovered in the Word of God.
As I’ve thought about this proverb over time (for one reason, I grew up in a locale known for its iron ore industry) I’ve mined, you might say, a number of good applications that have helped me value fellowship.
First, an expanded explanation of the proverb from Pulpit Commentary:
The proverb deals with the influence which men have upon one another. So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend…and the writer names iron as the sharpener rather than the whetstone, because he wishes to denote that one man is of the same nature as another, and that this identity is that which makes mutual action possible and advantageous.
I favor that explanation because there is an egalitarian aspect of fellowship by which I am reminded of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Each believer, though unique in myriad ways beginning with his or her DNA, is saved and commissioned by the same God. Each has a needful place in the Body of Christ, no matter any qualifying factor in the world’s eyes.
To further the analogy, even though the truth in its purest form (compare with unalloyed iron) might be embedded in the “rocks and minerals” of, say, some conversation or interaction with another believer (compare with iron ore) might be difficult to comprehend–extract–it can be found.
It is still available for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, minds to question–and perhaps to challenge–one another, all methods enabling us to learn more about God, His ways and His will.
But whether the truth shared, discussed, and/or discovered is iron or iron ore, the beauty of fellowship with other believers is that we always come away that much closer to God, edified, comforted, instructed, and affirmed.
That said, a few rocks and stones found with the iron, as in biblical interpretations that might be off-target, so to speak, can be like “quills in the nest of our contentment” (to reference two other related analogies). They prompt us to search, inquire–dig–further.
To put it another way, even if we are challenged by alloyed truth this can also spur us on to the next stage of spiritual growth if we take the opportunity, as put in 2 Timothy 2:15, to do our best to “present (ourselves) to God as…approved…workers who…correctly (handle) the word of truth.”
But there’s more to this rich analogy.
If you think about it, each of us is at once both iron and iron ore.
By reason of formal, Bible study, maturity in the Lord, and/or experience, we have each learned certain biblical truths extracted directly from God’s Word (which can be likened to iron in its purest form), the Ten Commandments, for example.
Additionally, the Bible is not all symbol and poetry, type and shadow; much of it is very specific and means what it clearly states.
It might “show up” in our lives in different ways, however.
To straight-up preachers and teachers of God’s Word formally ordained to the ministry, the pure metal of truth shines through in faithful expositions of God’s Word–from God’s Word–by way of careful exegesis.
But this motherlode is available anytime, anywhere, to all believers who are invited to God’s Word for inspiration, clarification, correction, direction, salvation, healing, and deliverance from evil.
It is available to all who, like the “diligent who bear rule,” by their prayer, purposeful study–and perseverence–discern God’s Word accurately.
And there is also truth that, like iron ore alloyed with other rocks and minerals, appears through our elements, so to speak, as in, our unique callings, gifts, and abilities.
Truth also manifests through in, and by, other elements of our lives such as in literature, music, art, math, science, history, anthropology, and every other human endeavor where the message “between the lines”–or via the musical notes, images, algorythms, discoveries, and cultural narratives–can be read not only by those with eyes to see and ears to hear but also by those with hands to handle.
Each of us has abilities and interests by which we can better comprehend our world–and its Creator–for, like the expression, “to a hammer everything is a nail,” to a musician, everything is sound and rythmn; to an artist, color and form; to a designer, beauty and function. We are ever drawn to discoveries and origins that we might add to the bounty as we are inspired and gain skill.
And to a scientist, a “handler of creation,” so to speak, there is the unique fascination with discoveries that can thread an open mind, heart, and spirit back to first causes, THE first cause, which believers understand was engineered by the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible.
That is if the scientist chooses to investigate that, too.
Even in our natural roles as daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, and members of larger communities, we can get a glimpse of how we are made “in the image and likeness of the “Three Persons of God” as in God, our Father and Provider; Jesus, our Friend and Brother; and the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Guide.
In these roles, we can better understand how our natural family and extended people groups are types and shadows of the community of God, where, ideally, each member has a specific function and role.
Of course in this world, an amalgamation of good and evil, pure and tainted, transparent and hidden, there is little that is ideal and much that requires work to observe, mine, and refine.
And who hasn’t got some “alloyed truth” embedded within?
So we especially need each other to sift and sort through all that.
But just as miners help industry identify, find, and extract the iron from the ore, we also have a spiritual Helper to help us identify, find, and extract truth from its own foreign elements.
Lessons from the Miners
Mining both iron–and iron ore–illustrates yet more to learn about God and about how we minister in each our own ways to one another.
The discovery of the metal in its purest form, as in meteors, is rare. Meteors sometimes hit the earth, and, while it might take a while to find some (or, like the fragment of one meteor that actually fell through the roof of a house, discovery might be very immediate!), it is relatively easy to figure out what they are. Likewise some Words of God are more obvious than others.
Mining iron ore, however, can be much more difficult, involving running a milling operation wherein the amalgamation of rock, mineral and iron needs to go through crushing, screening, and grinding processes to isolate the iron.
So, too, some of the iron of God’s word as embedded in each of us can take some “spiritual milling” to not only recognize but also to make sure it has separated, so to speak, from external “influences,” veins of some unbiblical or extra-biblical doctrines or traditions that might obscure or diminish the purity of the truth.
On the Divine Miner
But just as miners know the way to mine and refine their treasures, we have a Divine Miner and Refiner*, as it were, the Holy Spirit, to help us discover and comprehend the greatest treasure of all, “the kingdom of heaven,” the origin and source of truth. He does this by way of illumination. As put in 1 Corinthians 2:7-13:
No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”[a]—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.*
And, of course, to sharpen the whole process–and to finish the analogy–this is where good fellowship is both essential and a great blessing, so that we might benefit from both the “miners” who labored “before us” and those who labor alongside us, the Holy Spirit lighting the way for all.
And so I celebrate it today–with you, I hope.
Carry on, friends, brothers, and sisters in Christ.
And thank you for your input into my own spiritual growth.
(You know who you are.)
Image of church from Wikimedia Commons
Image of believers gathered together in prayer from Wikimedia Commons
Image of Vicenice meteor from Wikimedia Commons
Image of iron ore from Wikimedia Commons
Image of iron ore mine facility from Wikimedia Commons
Image of Holy Spirit from Wikimedia Commons