The universally popular appeal of the concept of mentoring is a sign that there’s something about pursuing growth and development that is wired into us as humans. The Bible points to the fact that God expects every human to grow, develop, and mature over time—including growth in how we share our gifts in our various vocations.
But how can you and I embrace growth and an overall developmental posture as a normal part of our lives? And what exactly does growing in our gifts have to do with God and the Church?
As iron sharpens iron
Two and a half millennia earlier, King Solomon gave the world this memorable image, As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Prov. 27:17). Humans help each other grow.
In fact, one of the key themes of the book of Proverbs is that wise people seek after growth, instruction and correction, while fools avoid all three. This theme is stated in the orienting introduction to the book of Proverbs: Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…Fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:5, 7).
Wise people seek after growth and development. Fools despise it. This seeking is meant to be active: later in Proverbs we are encouraged to “call out” for insight and raise our voices for understanding. In fact, we are told to search for instruction as we would search for silver or for hidden treasures (Prov. 2:3-4).
This search is so beautiful to behold that it makes you think we were actually made to be pushed to grow and to push others toward growth. At times the pushing goes just one way (as in classic mentoring relationships), but it’s common for there to be mutual pushing. I saw a beautiful picture of this under my own roof during the early quarantine months of 2020.
As the initial shelter-in-place orders were put in place in March 2020, my oldest, Simon, came home to finish his sophomore year of college from our basement. And my middle child, Teya, experienced her last semester of high school in a much different way than she had always imagined she would. With Wendy and me also asked to work remotely from home and Victor shifting to remote middle school, our meager square footage and Wi-Fi capacity were both pushed to their limits.
In the midst of that uncomfortable, unwelcomed season of difficult circumstances, Simon and Teya did an unexpected thing together: they started a small business. You would’ve had to witness the previous years of their sibling relationship to appreciate just how shocking and beautiful it was to see them partnering together. With Simon’s entrepreneurial gifts and Teya’s artistic gifts they birthed a Christian clothing brand called Adriel Collective.
I just loved the “business meetings” Simon and Teya would schedule and hold. It was not difficult to overhear these meetings (small square footage, remember?). It was beautiful to hear Teya helping Simon grow his entrepreneurial gifts and Simon helping Teya develop her artistic gifts. Whether brainstorming a concept for a new line of shirts, critiquing one of Teya’s original designs, or working out kinks on Simon’s website and e-commerce solutions, Simon and Teya were graciously but clearly pushing on each other’s gifts. They asked each other to grow and learn new skills; they gave honest feedback. They were like iron sharpening iron.
I don’t know what was more impressive to behold (and overhear) as a parent: their fast-paced growth as entrepreneur and artist, or the honest push and pull they engaged in. The growth and instruction and correction happening in that season is what Proverbs would happily deem wisdom and rightly celebrate. And all this from a brother and sister separated by only 16 months in age. Being crammed into the same house for a few months turned out to be a time of celebrating each other’s gifts and pushing each other to grow in those gifts. Simon and Teya were being wise. Their lives were a reflection of Solomon’s unforgettable image: people sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron. This is an important nuance of the Bible’s anthropology: these wonderfully made humans who are using their God-given gifts in various vocations are meant to be constantly developing their aptitudes, abilities and skills.
Everyone can grow
We see example after example of purposeful, iron-sharpening iron relationships all throughout the Bible. At times these relationships are focused on developing character or faithfulness; other times they are focused on developing skills and abilities. As Walter Brueggemann points out, people helping each other grow in the Bible “moves back and forth between an acute theological sensibility and quite practical awareness of specific tasks that need to be accomplished.” We see examples of such relationships throughout the Old Testament, including Jethro and Moses, Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, David and Solomon, Elijah and Elisha, Huldah and Josiah, Naomi and Ruth, and Mordecai and Esther.
These relationships, and others, are narrated in such a way that they clearly celebrate the act of people helping each other grow and develop. Again and again, these relationships result in a blessed sharpening of skills and abilities or character and faithfulness.
We see the same types of relationships in the New Testament. Jesus, of course, was interested in more than just helping people grow, but it is striking that his overall ministry of healing and teaching included a more intimate, unhurried development of his 12 disciples. And isn’t it noteworthy that Luke tells us that Jesus himself “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52)?
We also see iron-sharpening-iron relationships between Barnabas and Paul, and between Paul and many others. In the New Testament, we see that developmental relationships are central to the mission of the Church going forward. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul encourages all believers to be like iron to each other? “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).
From cover to cover, the Bible celebrates humans helping each other grow. If we really started seeking after instruction and correction like people searching for hidden treasure, this would likely have two beautiful implications: a normalizing and celebration of this developmental posture, and a reigniting of gift development within the Church.
Back in those early months of the quarantine, our home became a laboratory not only for the Adriel Collective but also for growth in general. There was lots of iron sharpening iron. Not only did we get to overhear Simon and Teya pushing each other to grow and develop as an entrepreneur and an artist, Simon also took it upon himself to push my youngest, Victor, and me to get into shape.
And here’s the thing, even though that experience was painful (let the reader understand), it was also beautiful and joyful and thoroughly human. We are wired to be like iron sharpening iron, to be open to helping each other grow in all sorts of ways—including in developing the gifts God has given us. And the research findings we’ve discussed only confirmed this and convinced me of just how important it is to help each other grow. May we all experience the power of helping each other grow in our gifts.
Taken from “Discover Your Gifts” by Don Everts. Copyright (c) 2022 by Lutheran Hour Ministries. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
- Read “Discover Your Gifts” (IV Press, 2022) by Don Everts.
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