The Friendship Foundry
November 3, 2022 | Monty Waldron
Are close friendships on the endangered list of your life?
Surveys over the last couple of years suggest that friendships in American culture have suffered quite a bit in the face of a global pandemic, social unrest and a growing ideological divide.
12% of our population said in last year’s American Perspectives Survey that they have NO friendships! That number was 3% thirty years ago.
Closer to home, friendships seem particularly fragile in our churches. I’ve heard numerous heartbreaking testimonies of relational walkaways; fractures due to disappointment and disagreement with those once considered committed companions.
There are likely a lot of contributing factors—relationships are complicated—but could it be that our friendships wilt under the heat associated with the work they require? One of the ways King Solomon envisioned friendship drew upon the grueling labor of blacksmiths. It shows up in Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (CSB)
The imagery is taken from an ancient foundry, a workshop where metals were exposed to tremendous heat and pressure, molded and refined for any number of agricultural, domestic or military purposes. Inevitably, the blacksmith used metal to transform metal; a sledgehammer shaping a red-hot blade against an iron anvil.
Solomon uses that metaphor to help us appreciate the formative process of our friendships. There is a friction that comes with fruitful relationship which serves to transform us into more of what our Master Craftsman, Jesus Christ, intends. That friction isn’t created in isolation. It can only be had in the context of genuine, Spirit-led, gospel-grounded friendship.
The particular transformation anticipated in this passage is figuratively a “sharpened face.” One commentator likens relational sharpening to the act of cultivating keen perception, quick wit or general vigor for life in another.
Two people earnestly engaged around ideas that are good, right and true refines the thinking, the beliefs, the disposition of both. We could say, using Paul’s language in the New Testament, they are edified or built up (see 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4:29).
I don’t have to tell you that life-changing friction isn’t pleasant. In fact, it can be downright painful! That pain, however, in the hands of our Savior, promises to bring out the very best in us.
Several verses before our key passage, Solomon writes that an “open rebuke” is better than “hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5) Not only that, he calls the wounds of a friend—the hard, but helpful feedback shared with us for our good—“faithful.”
So, it seems, we’re left with a difficult but important choice. Will we do the hard and sometimes painful work of sharpening and being sharpened in our relationships, or settle for cordial communication that leaves all parties unchanged?
Notice, doing life with others in the friendship foundry will at times require us to do the sharpening, and at other times require us to be sharpened. Both involve humble dependance upon and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. He is ultimately the one who brings about change in our lives. We are simply more or less cooperative with his initiative.
Let’s collectively ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) as we relate to one another, and let’s speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15) as our Guide brings truth to our minds.
This will forge in each of us (individually) and all of us (collectively) relational depth, strength and resilience for the fight of faith we’re called to fight as connected followers of Christ. I can tell you, it is truly a gift and a joy to be a connected follower with you.