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Take it from a retired meat cutter,
iron sharpens iron

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Take it from a retired meat cutter,
iron sharpens iron

by Gerald Gill

The writer and his wife, Camilla, have been Church of God members since 1968. They worship with three groups, the Church of God Big Sandy, United Church of God and Church of God (Seventh Day). This article also appeared in the "Edifying the Body" section of

KUNKLETOWN, Pa.--All of us can learn from other people. Likewise all of us have something to give to other people.

A proverb in the Old Testament encourages people to help each other. It says, "Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).

In considering this proverb I thought about a few physical examples in my life that might be helpful in putting it into practice.

Grandfather's lesson

As this article is being published in 2009, I am 80 years old.

When I was a young boy my brother and I spent a summer with my grandparents on Nantucket Island, Mass. My grandfather, Joseph Gill, wore a suit coat and vest every day. In his vest pocket was a small, sharp pocketknife.

Some of my early understanding about sharpening knives came from my grandfather.

My grandfather would make kites, paddle-wheel boats and other simple toys out of wood for my brother and me.

When he was finished carving and whittling a project, he would carefully clean the knife. Then he would take out a small honing stone and sharpen it.

He would tell us the importance of having a sharp knife.

He could make so many wonderful toys with his knife because he took care of his knife. He regularly sharpened it.

Later I spent a lot of time with knives. I was a professional meat cutter for 31 years. (I retired in 1991.)

When I was 30 years old I served an apprenticeship in the retail meat business. I learned how to cut up cattle and turn them into steaks, roasts and other cuts.

When I was working as a meat cutter I had to work with large chunks of meat. That is not generally true of retail meat cutters today.

Most of the stores today receive meat prepackaged in smaller sizes. Years ago the retail market worked with the entire animal.

Giving meat a weigh

The frontquarter (a quarter of the animal) weighed 80-110 pounds. The meat that came from the frontquarter was the chuck steaks and chuck roasts.

The rib of beef weighed 25-30 pounds. The meat that came from this section was standing rib roasts.

The loin of beef weighed 40-50 pounds. The meat that came from this section was sirloin steaks, porterhouse steaks and T-bone steaks. (The highest-priced section of the animal is the tenderloin meat, which comes from only three to four pounds of the animal.)

This type of work meant we had an assortment of knives.

It was important to learn to use them properly.

But it was also vital to learn to take care of them.

Some of my coworkers neglected their knives, and their neglect showed up in their workmanship.

There were times when their neglect of their equipment affected their production.

The cuts of meat were not smoothly and evenly cut.

Our business had an important rule: Never use another person's knives.

Some of the workers took such good care of their knives they knew immediately if someone had used their knife, if only for a short while.

Spiritual lessons

What can we learn about helping a friend from the simple physical act of sharpening a knife?

I have chosen three points for this comparison:

  • A responsible person, like a good knife sharpener, will take great care in helping his friends stay on the cutting edge.

Do we have a strong desire to help people stay on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God?

Jesus said our words reflect our heart (Matthew 12:34). If we want our words to edify other people, our heart must be right.

  • As each knife is different, so each person is different.

When we sharpen a knife, what is its condition? What is the quality of steel in the knife? What type of stone should we use: fine, medium or coarse? We will want to remove only as little metal as necessary.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul wrote about the importance of understanding other people before trying to help them.

We have different heredities, different past environments and different present environments. We are all different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses.

  • When sharpening a knife we must hold it at the proper angle. In sharpening a friend we must take the proper approach.

The cutting edge of a knife is usually maintained with a special tool called a steel.

Gentler steeling

The steel, which is magnetized, is drawn back and forth over the edge of the knife to create a fine, sharp edge.

People sometimes used a powerful magnifying glass to see when the edge was still a little too rough. At that point it needed gentler steeling.

Good memories

Paul wrote about the importance of choosing the right words:

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt; that you may know how you ought to answer every man" (Colossians 4:6).

In our lives it is not necessarily what type of job we did that we remember. Rather, we call on the good memories from the associations and relationships of the people we worked with.

That's why as we grow older it is nice to go to reunions and retirement parties to rekindle memories.

God is in the people business. He is interested in every one of us.

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