Iron Sharpens Iron


Photo by Laughlin Elkind

The other day, I woke up a grump. I hadn’t slept well, and I was dreading my day. I honestly couldn’t think of a single good thing that was going to happen.

“What’s wrong?” Benjamin asked when he saw my face, and I gladly laid my complaints before him, every last one.

“Well,” he said cheerily, “try to make it a good day. Instead of thinking of all the negatives, think of some positives. There has to be something!”

Seriously? Why couldn’t he just listen to my complaints and let me stew in my bad mood? What made him such a happiness expert? He obviously just didn’t understand.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow his advice.

A couple of days later, I was writing something and decided to ask someone their thoughts on it, since it was about to be published. I was really proud of what I had written and was ready to hear a few compliments on my hard work. “It’s good!”my friend said. I smiled. “But…this sentence here is a little awkward. Also, I think you should get rid of a few of these confusing words.”

What? I quickly leaped in defense of those words, and explained that the sentence wasn’t really that awkward. Besides, that was the only possible way to phrase it.

I did actually end up sitting down to make those suggested changes, feeling a little insulted that my work was thought so little of. As I did so, though, I realized that I have had quite an unfortunate trend in my life. Scenes like this played out all the time! I just could not accept criticism.

Accepting criticism is one of the hardest things the Bible asks us to do. “What?”, you might be asking. “The Bible asks us to accept criticism?”

It does. I sometimes feel like dodging readings of the book of Proverbs because of its painful advice to, well, take advice. It could not be more crystal clear in saying that we don’t know everything, and that if a wise, trusted person is offering us advice, we should at least listen to it with an open and humble mind. Here are just a few examples:

  • He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
  • Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored. (Proverbs 13:18)
  • He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, But he who ignores reproof goes astray. (Proverbs 10:17)

I know in my life, the struggle is that idea of humility. Whenever I have worked hard on something, or even if I have just done something I think I’m pretty good at, I build up a lot of pride, sometimes without even realizing it. Then when someone comes to point out that there may be a few little blemishes that I’ve missed, my pride strikes back in defense.

Would you not agree that pride is really the source of our problems with criticism? We want to be right, we want what we have done to be great, and we certainly don’t want some other person (who obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about) to come over and tell us differently. It doesn’t always show itself as clearly as that, but if we really search our hearts, I think most of us would find that those are our thoughts and motivations.

So how can we fix our attitudes? I guess it’s the same solution that any other attitude problem has. We have to ask God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9), ask Him for strength and humility (Philippians 4:13), and then just strive to do better with His help. One thing I am trying to do is purposefully ask for people’s honest opinion on what I have done. I haven’t yet mastered listening without jumping to a defense, but I am working on keeping my mouth shut and my ears open.

God is the only one who can truly teach me that everything I have is from Him, and that He has put people in my life who can help me be better. Their advice, whether for my writing, my organizational skills, my emotional reactions, or anything else, can be incredibly constructive, especially when the speaker is “speaking the truth in love”as they are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:15.

Have you heard the reminder in Proverbs 27:17? It says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

God designed us to need sharpening from both Himself and from those around us who follow Him. Don’t let yourself just get dull because of pride and stubbornness when God calls us to so much more through Him.



  1. Yes, I have a hard time accepting criticism, and I am working on it, too! Pride is a hard sin to fight, I think, because our sin nature says, “me, me, me!” Instead, we should say like John the Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease.” Thanks for the reminder!

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