God’s Word for You
Proverbs 27:17 The Keys
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 9, 2020
17 As iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.
The mind, speech, thoughts, and examples of one man sharpen another man. In fact, we sharpen each other. Even if your companion does not think as quickly or deeply or as far ahead as you do, you will still become sharper by learning to speak more clearly, guide your friend’s line of thought, or express yourself in new terms.
This is not just the way of things between men, but between God and man. We of course do nothing to make any change in God, who has compassion on us for his own reasons, who elected the saved in eternity for his own reasons, and who loves us purely out of his undeserved love. But Jesus Christ affects everyone who encounters him. There are some who doubt him and doubt his power as God, confusing him with an ordinary man. These are people who reject the real presence in the Lord’s Supper or the value of infant baptism. They reject his power to save, and therefore they are not saved. But where God has made a change in the human heart through the gospel, the iron of God’s word goes to work, and the law takes on a new role: as a guide. It is the law as a guide and the gospel as a motivating force in the believer that becomes the spiritual iron in this proverb. Through these means, Jesus hones, smooths, and sharpens each of us, filing away the spurs and knobs of our sinful nature. The law makes us say, “My Lord does not want me to pursue this temptation into a sin. He teaches this in the Sermon on the Mount, where he condemns hatred as murder (Matthew 5:21-22), lust as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), divorce apart from unfaithfulness as adultery (Matthew 5:31-32), breaking an oath as using the Lord’s name in vain (Matthew 5:33-35), cursing and swearing in general as likewise despising God’s name (Matthew 5:36-37), and so on. What should be foremost in our hearts must be that God’s laws and his will are not there to constrain us, but to serve his kingdom. I might complain about what seems like a small thing in my life: Why should God care what I grumble about or daydream about while I pull dandelions from my yard? But God knows better than I do that the habits I form in private are going to emerge someday in public. A seemingly little matter today can and will become something bigger tomorrow; something that may lead someone else astray (someone who looks to me to be an example). Therefore, I should and must guide my thoughts toward godly things even while I pull the weeds and do the dishes and the laundry. Paul says with supreme wisdom: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And to this he adds (and here we must think of the example we set): “Do not cause anyone to stumble… for I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).
We need to understand that we ourselves become involved in this gospel sharpening and honing. We are workers in God’s vineyard, and we use the tools he has provided for us. So we circle back to our first understanding of this proverb and see that we work for one another and, in a very real sense, we work on one another. Christian by Christian, we sharpen one another by example, by words, and by Christian discipline. We see this most clearly in the Bible’s teaching about the Keys. In the Catechism we confess first:
What is the use of the keys?
The use of the keys is that special power and right which Christ gave to his church on earth: to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but refuse forgiveness to the impenitent as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
The holy evangelist John writes in chapter 20, “Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
How does a Christian congregation use the keys?
A Christian congregation with its called servant of Christ uses the keys in accordance with Christ’s command by forgiving those who repent of their sin and are willing to amend, and by excluding from the congregation those who are plainly impenitent that they may repent. I believe that when this is done, it is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.
Where is this written?
Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 18, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven!”
Pastor Timothy Smith