As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17, NLT
King Solomon’s writings are filled with illustrations meant to enlighten us about the power of meaningful relationships. He believed good friends could sharpen one another—that “metal to metal” relationships would result in an improved life (see Prov. 27:17). He also believed that poor relationships would wound us. Ultimately, he claimed, we are the product of our friendships, whether good or bad.
The king clearly understood that human beings were never made to “go it alone.” He taught us that God often uses the influences of others to shape and prepare our destinies.
We can never be all God intended for us to be without significant people in our lives.
For this reason, we must work hard at developing friendships with those more stalwart than ourselves—colleagues who aren’t afraid to “level with us,” who are more impressed with character than accomplishment.
It is a well-known medical and scientific fact that life without significant relationships is not only meaningless, but very unhealthy.
In his book, The Broken Heart, James Lynch says, “Most of the people I deal with have at the root of their physical problems the problem of loneliness. They may well be living with someone, or indeed in a busy, bustling family atmosphere but they do not know what it is to experience a close relationship. The lonely are twice as likely to suffer physical problems as those who enjoy a warm relationship with at least one other person.”
Sydney Jourard in his book, The Transparent Self, said, “Every maladjusted person is someone who has not made himself known to another human being and in consequence he does not know himself. Nor can he be himself. More than that, he struggles actively to avoid becoming known by another human being. He works ceaselessly at it day and night. And it is work!”
The reality is that we not only need a right relationship with God but healthy relationships with one another. We can live successfully without having to be in a romantic relationship, but we cannot live a worthwhile life nor can we grow outside of meaningful relationships. As the Bible teaches, “It is not good to be alone.”
One of the most memorable moments in recent Olympic history took place in 1992, at the summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. You may remember the name of Derek Redmond. He was the British runner who had been through twenty-two surgeries on his Achilles heel getting ready for the 400 meter race.
It was a shock to everyone that he was even running again, much less competing as the best athlete from his country. When the gun went off for his race, Derek took off. He was in the middle of the pack of some of the fastest runners in the world when, about halfway around the track, he pulled his hamstring and fell to the ground.
Of course, everyone thought he was finished. The broadcasters started yelling out, “Derek Redmond is out of the race! Derek Redmond is out of the race!” The cameraman stayed with the rest of the runners as they finished the race, but then the cameras raced back to Derek Redmond who was still down on the track, trying to pull himself back up. He was determined to finish the race.
Much to everyone’s amazement, this great athlete slowly stood up and began to hobble around the track, writhing in pain. You can see this on the video footage. As you watch his face, there were tears streaming down his cheeks. Yet, in spite of his determination, it was obvious to everyone watching that there was just no way he would be able to finish that race. He was in such pain.
Just as Redmond was about to collapse for the final time, a man came running down out of the stands. He climbed the fence at the side of the track, pushed his way past two big guards and ran onto the track. The man who came to Derek Redmond’s side that day was Derek’s mentor. He had been sitting in the second to the top of the grand stand that day in Barcelona, but he could not imagine anything but getting involved.
The man’s name was Jim Redmond. He happened to be Derek’s dad. For years, he had been there by his son’s side, getting up at four o’clock in the morning for practices, encouraging, supporting, and cheering his son on. Now, he felt he just could not stand by and let his son fail to finish the race.
So he came jogging up to his injured son; and, when he got close enough, he reached for him, putting his hand on Derek’s shoulder. Derek took a few more steps and then turned and fell into the chest of his mentor and dad. Then, Jim Redmond said these words, which were later quoted in the newspaper. He said, “Derek, we started this thing together, and we are going to finish this thing together.”
Then Jim took his son’s arm, put it around his own shoulders, put his arm around Derek’s shoulders and held his son up. I mean, literally, just held him up as together they made their way around the rest of the track. As you can imagine, the crowd was roaring its approval as Derek Redmond finished his race. But, he did not finish it alone. Together, linked arm in arm, father and son crossed the finish line as one.
We desperately need strategic relationships to finish our race well in life.
Here are some MAJOR relationship keys:
- If you want a friend, you must first so the seeds of friendship toward people.
So many people complain that they don’t have meaningful relationships, yet they never make themselves friendly first.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The actions and attitudes you sow in relationships you will receive back again. If you value and protect relationships God will make sure that those same dynamics are reciprocated. If you are a source of discord and confusion your life will likewise be filled with discord and confusion.
- Be a giver and not a taker.
So many people just use relationships as a means to an end. People are not ladders that you use to go higher in life.
- Be authentic, vulnerable and transparent
Just be you and let the “chips fall where they may…” A healthy, genuine relationship can’t be based on pretense.
- Be humble and extend mercy
Everyone has skeletons in their closet. When we first start relationships they go through a “honeymoon” phase. Eventually we rub each other the wrong way and feelings get hurt. Be mature enough to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
We need to understand that going to the next level in God will always require us to discover and develop new relationships. However, we should never discard time-honored, meaningful relationships. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”
So who needs friends, right? After all, this is America—the great bastion of independence and self-sufficiency. Think again! Maybe it’s time once more for you and me to hear the sound of grinding metal in our lives. Iron to iron—friend sharpening friend. Lord, give us good friends!