“If the iron tools are blunt, and he does not sharpen its face, greater strength is needed; but wisdom results in success.”
A tool is far more valuable when the edge is sharp than when the edge is dull and interestingly, the edge of a knife is far more likely to injure you when dull than when sharp. Such is because a dull edge (as Solomon points out) requires more force to do the job for which it was designed. I suppose that this is one of those lessons that has been engrained in my life since boyhood. As a young man in the Boy Scouts, I lived with a pocket knife — cutting rope for shelters as well as for whittling when I had down-time. I also spent much time with an axe, splitting firewood, not just for scouts but for our home as well. Later, I spent more than a decade installing carpet in people’s homes and apartments where a razor-knife was a tool of the trade (and know well that when a razor is too dull to cut through carpet without force, it is quite sharp enough to cut through skin — I have the scar tissue to prove it!). And though I no longer work in the trades, I still split firewood, tinker with woodworking, as well as with other crafts needing sharp implements (and collect exotic knives as a hobby). Sharp is better. Sharp is safer, and sharp requires less brute force to use properly.
Yet, as with the previous verse, we must not limit this to a worldly application. The same is true when it comes to intellectual and spiritual matters. The bottom line is that many practice theology without minds and spirits that have been honed sharp by a careful study of the Scriptures. As a result, many pastors, churches, denominations, and even schools of theology practice sloppy theology, forcing a dull implement through the blessed Word of God. And sloppy theology is bad theology because it leads people astray. While the essentials of faith are clear enough even for the most rudimentary reading of the Word; God’s Word is also not so basic that it can be rightly divided by unsharpened tools. No, precision must be our goal that we might see and carefully understand the infinitely complex connections that bind the Word together as a unified whole. Like a spider’s web, with tiny filaments, the Scriptures are elegantly constructed so that all aspects of the Word point us to Christ. Yet, sharpened minds and spirits are necessary to dissect them. Blunt force yields perhaps the Truth, but the elegant wonders require precision.
And thus, Solomon once again offers us a reminder that we must take care of the tools that we use — sharpen the axe and the hoe indeed and do not permit them to become rusty. But sharpen your skills in the Word also. This takes careful reading and study — and as iron sharpens iron, it often takes that guidance and debate of others more mature than you. We will never master the Word of God, but as we immerse ourselves in its elegance, it will master us — and hone us until we are made complete in the presence of Christ.