Bible Church International
Sharpening One Another: Building Up the Church Through Mutual Accountability
Sharpening One Another: Building Up the Church Through Mutual Accountability
Several years ago, Dr. Gene Getz, of Dallas Theological Seminary wrote a book called, Building Up One Another. This book summarizes a series of lectures from his Biblical studies classes, which illustrate the repeated occurrence of the phrase “one another” more than 50 times in Scripture. Getz emphasized that these phrases all describe how healthy relationships between Christian believers should look. Phrases such as “love one another,” “serve one another,” “greet one another,” “comfort one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” etc. illustrate the truth that healthy relationships between Christians build up the Body of Christ and insure a strong church.
In Colossians 3:16, we read yet another “one another,” in the Apostle Paul’s writings to the church at Colossae:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.” (NKJV)
The word “admonish” literally means to instruct, to warn, to counsel, or to urge. When observed in Scripture, the concept of admonishment is expressed in various ways and in numerous places. In Proverbs 27:17, for example, we find the principle of admonishment described in this way:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Have you ever attempted to cut paper or other material with dull scissors? How about peeling a potato with a dull knife? …chopping firewood with a dull axe? Then you know the importance of sharpening these implements to make them useful. We will sometimes even refer to another person as “dull” or “not very sharp,” if that person seems inefficient or slow.
The gist of Proverbs 27:17 is that keeping company with certain kinds of persons is a way of taking off the dull, blunt edges and making our lives more purposeful and beneficial to God and to one another. This is, in essence, what it means to sharpen one another through our Christian interactions and relatedness. And, it is very much in keeping with BCI’s mission statement: “Leading people to a life of commitment and productivity in Christ.”
Main Point: This morning we will consider what it means to “admonish” or to “sharpen” one another. The Apostle Paul explained to believer in various churches that his words were often intended to sharpen them for more purposeful lives in God’s service. From the examples of Paul’s dealings with First-Century believers, we learn much about the appropriateness of sharpening one another in our relationships today.
Sharpening One Another…
I.…must be consistent with appropriate character.
(Romans 15:14 NIV) “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”
First, Paul commended the Roman Christians for being “complete in knowledge.” They were gaining an adequate knowledge of God’s Word and maturing in their application of it. They were not dull, themselves! Secondly, Paul said they were competent because they were “full of goodness.” This expressed his confidence in their spirituality, their progress in becoming more and more Christlike.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Paul encourages us here to sharpen one another, if we are qualified. But he literally teaches us that we are only “competent” to instruct and correct one another when we are knowledgeable of God’s Word and applying it to our own lives with integrity. To attempt to counsel/admonish/instruct/warn while maintaining a faulty character would be like trying to get a piece of sawdust out of another’s eye when we have a “plank” or 2x4 sticking out of our own eye.
II…must be resistant to all but appropriate motivations.
(1 Corinthians 4:14 NIV) “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.”
I was pretty ignorant about tools and mechanical things until I worked part-time as an appliance maintenance technician, while attending Bible seminary. One time, my boss had just purchased a new circular saw for my work truck. As I was cutting a 2x4 in the wall, I noticed that the room was getting smoky, and the 2x4’s were really hard to cut through. After a bit, my coworker came in with a concerned look on his face. He asked, “Where did all of this smoke come from?” “From the saw,” I said. “The new blade must be dull, because I’m having a hard time cutting this wood, too.” “The blade is backwards, you goof!” he said.
You see, while the blade of my saw was sharp enough, it was backwards. It was misapplied, or misdirected, in its intention, and therefore it became almost useless or even potentially damaging. The misdirected way in which I was using this sharp, new blade made it less effective than even a dull blade would have been.
Similarly, when we feel motivated to say things that are harsh or a little hard to each other, we should pause to consider whether our motive is an appropriate one. We must do all we can to avoid embarrassing or shaming people—even those who are guilty. Guilt is a poor motivator
On the other hand, love is an excellent motivator. If we can prove to someone that we are confronting them because we love them and desire God’s best for them, they will often respond with enthusiasm to your sharpening efforts. Some Christian psychologists refer to this type of loving confrontation as “carefronting.” Remember that if the person we are confronting is a believer, the Holy Spirit of God within them will convict them of sin and convince them of the truth, if we do not close off their spirit by making them think our motive is to tear them down.
Consider Paul’s words of warning to the Christians in the city of Ephesus: “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” There was no doubt in these men’s minds that Paul loved them. Paul’s tears were a reflection of his deep concern for these fellow believers. In no way could they misinterpret his motive as being judgmental. Paul was concerned for these believers and effective in sharpening them because his motive was pure.
III…must be persistent, with an appropriate end in mind.
(Colossians 2:28 NLT) “So everywhere we go, we tell everyone about Christ. We warn them and teach them with all the wisdom God has given us, for we want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.”
Remember that in that last example I gave you out of Acts, Paul claimed to have warned/instructed the Ephesian elders “night and day… for three years.” Paul knew that, in order to be effective, people needed to be repeatedly and persistently sharpened by admonishment/instruction.
There should be only one basic objective when we admonish another: to help them become more mature in Jesus Christ. In any other case, admonishment or warning will serve as a means to an inappropriate and perhaps self-serving end. Here’s a good question to ask yourself: “Is my goal to say things that cut this person, or is it to sharpen them?” Just because we disagree with someone does not mean that they are necessarily wrong. Admonishment or warning must be based on God’s specific will and ways—not upon what we think other Christians should or should not be doing. If we attempt to correct areas that are not specifically spelled out in Scripture or specific things that involve cultural standards and practices, then we are in danger of imposing standards contrary to Scripture. Sometimes it is difficult to know where that fine line exists, though.
As the Christian patriarch Augustine once said,
In essentials we should maintain UNITY.
In non-essentials we should promote HARMONY.
In all things we should practice CHARITY.
I used to enjoy watching my father sharpen his pocket knife. He would take his knife, having dulled it with use, and he would scrape it over and over and over persistently down the length of a sharpening stone. He knew it was sharp enough when he could hold a piece of paper and slice it with ease, using the blade of the once-dull knife.
Likewise, we need to remember that the precise reflection of Jesus is our only worthy goal in sharpening one another, keeping one another on the straight and narrow. And this can only be attained with persistenct in holding one another against he whetstone of accountability to the truth of God’s Word.
IV…must be existent within appropriate relationships.
(1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 NCV) You know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We encouraged you, we urged you, and we insisted that you live good lives for God, who calls you to His glorious Kingdom.”
As already noted before in Colossians 3:16, Paul also acknowledged that Christian relationships should be characterized by mutual sharpening in his letter to the church at Colossae.
Sharpening through mutual instruction, warning and counsel should be a natural outgrowth of proper body function. We should practice both preventative sharpening and corrective sharpening of one another, and we should be open to receiving it as constructive. Isn’t it much easier not to care enough to confront someone, instead of risking their rejection if we do correct them? But if you have a relationship you value, your concern for that person must be willing to risk rejection, in order to sharpen their focus on who God has created them to be and what He’s created them to do.
A statement I have used in premarital counseling sessions is both humorous, peculiar and profound: “Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone or anything that comes between them.” This is an odd statement, but there are elements of truth in it, which also apply to relationships within the Body of Christ. Many shears are self-sharpening. This does not mean that a single shear can sharpen itself, but that when, joined with another shear, sharpens and is sharpened by the other to which it is related. Recognize also that, for shears to sharpen themselves, they must move in opposite directions. This does not promote disagreement in the Body, but it gives us a context in which disagreement on Biblical grounds can be insightful and healthy for at least one of the parties in a relationship.
Conclusion: Sharpening is necessary to make our lives purposeful and useful to God and to one another. And none of us is exempt form learning to sharpen. Perhaps you are not in a position to do so now, but the health of your church body depends on your sharpening influence. Sharpening can be distasteful to us, because it is painful to the person doing the sharpening. Sharpening is also painful to the person being sharpened. For one thing, sharpening of any blade involves polishing away tiny imperfections and impurities, grinding away gaps and snags, in order to get down to the smooth surface underneath, which can hurt! We need to recognize the value of sharpening applied with the appropriate motive and goal, by someone who genuinely cares for us and whose character is maturing in Christ, however.
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