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Iron Sharpens Iron (Proverbs 27:17) Bible Meaning and Examples

  • Emma Danzey Contributing Writer
  • Published Jan 24, 2024
Iron Sharpens Iron (Proverbs 27:17) Bible Meaning and Examples

Have you ever heard, “Iron sharpens iron?” The saying comes out of Proverbs, and it is popular among the Christian community, being applied to friendships, marriages, and family relationships. The concept that Solomon was sharing implied that when you commit to being around another believer, you yourself will be refined and they will be sharpened by you. It suggests a mutually beneficial relationship.

In my mind, these are the friendships that come easily. These are the people that when I leave my conversation with them, I feel like we both encouraged one another and are better because we were together. But does iron actually sharpen iron?

God’s Chemistry Set shares, “Iron in those days contained varying amounts of impurities and was of different strengths. Sharpening is defined as the process of creating or refining a sharp edge to an appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. Sharpening is done by grinding away material on the tool with another abrasive substance harder than the tool itself…when one thing sharpens another, the substance on the sharpening surface must be harder than the material being sharpened, such as two different alloys of iron.”

In other words, if we desire to be strengthened in our faith this way, we need to spend intentional time with that type of person and spend time becoming that kind of person. It is important to ask, “Am I investing in others who live in a way that I want to model?” Christ is ultimately who we should live our lives reflecting, but it is true that we become like the people we surround ourselves with regularly. This verse helped anchor me in friendships and in dating. Now that I am married, my husband is probably the most effective iron in my life.

What Does Iron Sharpens Iron Mean?

Mel Walker from Christianity.com says, “The concept of iron sharpening iron” obviously implies at least two pieces of iron. It would be impossible for one tool to become sharper without the presence of the other. Left alone, both blades would be dull and quite useless.”

During the time of COVID and isolation, people around the world felt lonelier than ever. Many churches were unable to meet in person and their congregants were suffering. Pastors and leaders of ministries were having to make difficult decisions that affected those in their care. However, we were created for community and it is vital that we reach out and continue relationship building during trials.

Genesis 2:18 says, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” God the Father Himself has lived in community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit since before the beginning of time. They all have perfect unity. We were created in their image and are blessed when we choose to model their emphasis on relationships with others.

Context of Proverbs 27:17 and Iron Sharpens Iron

It is important when trying to understand the meaning of a Bible verse to look at the entire passage surrounding it. The challenge with Proverbs is that at first glance, the chapters appear to be a conglomeration of random advice put together. Proverbs 27 encompasses greater themes of community, authenticity, and provision.

Proverbs 27:4-5 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Proverbs 27:10-11 says, “Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relatives house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away. Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.”

Proverbs 27:15-16 says, “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.”

These are just a few verses leading up to iron sharpens iron in verse 17. Proverbs 27 is teaching the value of honest relationships that ultimately help us become more like Christ. Solomon shared about finding authentic friendship, dealing delicately with friend and family struggles, and the dangers of a wife who picks fights. I believe friendship, family, and marriage are three of the key areas that can sharpen us the most.

What Does Iron Sharpening Iron Look Like?

"Iron sharpening iron" refers to the process of individuals or groups mutually influencing each other through constructive criticism, healthy competition, or challenging interactions. Here are some aspects of what it looks like:

Mutual Growth: Individuals or groups engage in interactions that promote personal and collective growth. This can involve sharing knowledge, skills, and experiences.

Constructive Criticism: Friends or family offer feedback and criticism with the intention of helping each other improve. The emphasis is on constructive input that leads to positive changes rather than criticism for its own sake.

"A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends." (Proverbs 16:28)

Challenge and Accountability:  Fellowship challenges us to set higher standards and goals. There is a sense of mutual accountability where each person encourages the other to strive for excellence.

Collaboration: The process often involves collaboration and teamwork. People come together to combine their strengths and address challenges collectively.

Inspiration: Observing the achievements and progress of others can serve as motivation for personal improvement. This inspiration can lead individuals to push their boundaries and aim for higher levels of success. 

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Healthy Competition: A competitive environment can push individuals to excel. When competition is healthy and supportive, it encourages participants to continuously improve without fostering negativity.

Resilience Building: Facing challenges and overcoming obstacles together builds resilience. It helps individuals develop the mental and emotional strength needed to persevere through difficulties.

Positive Atmosphere: The overall atmosphere is one of support and encouragement rather than negativity. Christians feel empowered rather than demoralized.

"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'" (1 Corinthians 15:33).

References to Iron in Scripture

There are plenty of other places in Scripture that mention the word iron. Many times iron is simply referring to an element used in building structures and craftsmanship (Genesis 4:22, Numbers 31:22, Joshua 22:8).

In the Old Testament, tools made of iron were not to be used on the stone altars (Deuteronomy 27:5, Joshua 8:31). The Caananites were known to have chariots of iron (Joshua 17:16-18, Judges 1:19, & Judges 4:3). Iron was even used in the building of the temple during the time of Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:14, 22:16, & 29:2).

Iron also represented prison chains and jail cells (Psalm 149:8, Proverbs 27:17, and Isaiah 45:2).

Notice too that iron can be used as a weapon in Scripture. Numbers 35:16 says, “If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death.” When we think about iron as a weapon, we can relate that to our sharpening of others. Our honesty and trust can be used to hurt and break others down if we are not careful. In any relationship, the words we choose and our actions have an effect on the other person. In other words, it is vital to sharpen but not to stab each other.

Iron is written as being unbreakable (Jeremiah 15:12).

Daniel’s description of his vision included legs and feet of iron (Daniel 2:33-45). Iron teeth are mentioned as part of Daniel’s vision for the fourth beast in his vision about the end of times (Daniel 7).

Revelation mentions an “iron scepter” that is held by the beast (Revelation 12:5 and 19:15).

“Iron Sharpens Iron” in Friendship

As you can see iron is a strong, powerful, and useful tool in our lives. God has modeled the significance of living in fellowship with others. Especially in times like today, it is crucial for us to continue to sharpen and be sharpened by others. Michelle Lazurek from iBelieve says, “The saying also means that we need continuous communion with one another, as mankind was not created for a solitary life.” My prayer is that we can all press in and motivate one another to reflect clearer images of Christ. We will never be perfect, but we can strive to be on the journey of sanctification with our brothers and sisters around us.

Can Iron Sharpen Iron Remotely?

The COVID-19 virus wore down many communities that were thriving previously. Even friends who would meet weekly, were no longer in person and sat behind a screen when they visited. Elderly men and women were hit terribly with fear and distancing. Many kids were at home learning and missing out on socialization. Life looked completely different from years ago. Just like healthcare workers, teachers, and churches had to step up to live the “new normal,” it is important that we step up and reach out to our friends and family members in this unusual time.

What are ways that you have missed out on relationships? How can you take active steps to create and continue community with those you are connected with within your life? Some practical tips are to FaceTime, phone calls, send texts, send gifts in the mail, write letters, do online Bible Study with a friend or a group, go for a walk with someone nearby, encourage your neighbors, pray for those you love, and keep going to church. This is not the time to sit back and fall off the grid. Loneliness is easier than community, but the payoff is so worth the time and effort to build iron with iron relationships.

Further Reading:

What Is the Meaning of “Iron Sharpens Iron” in Proverbs 27:17?

What Does "Iron Sharpens Iron" Really Mean? Scripture Meaning and Significance

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/MangoStar_Studio

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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