First, in order to sharpen a blade, there must be contact. Metal must touch metal. We can't hone a blade from across the room and we can't influence someone's life without touching it. We have to draw near to them, show compassion and demonstrate the love of Christ - love that is unconditional, not dependent on them taking our advice - before we begin to offer instruction.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Sometimes the contact required to sharpen us makes sparks fly. Just as a blade against a stone will shower sparks as it is shaped, accountability sometimes leads to conflict. We've all experienced times when we were being corrected and immediately bristled at the correction. We are prone to become defensive, to try to justify our actions, to even counter-attack with all the shortcomings we see in the other person. But God desires that we receive correction humbly.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. (OUCH!)
The source for our bristling is our pride. No matter how often we tell ourselves we have beaten that monster down, it raises its head in the most unlikely places. We can even find ourselves becoming prideful about how very humble we are!
Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.
The value of correction is not based on the tool used, but on the hands of the One using it. Often we want to judge the words of someone offering correction based on their own strengths instead of based on God's strength. A stone used to sharpen a blade need not be perfect to be useful. Personally, I could pick up a tool perfectly suited for a task, but I don't have the skill or wisdom to put the tool to use. Similarly, God in His omnipotence can use even unbelievers to point out our rough points - the value of the correction lies in how God uses it, not in the person who provides it. We must weigh any correction received against God's Word and allow the Holy Spirit to give us discernment. Sometimes the 'correction' may be simply a distraction or an attack of the enemy, based on personal preferences and biases with no basis in Scripture. If so, receive it graciously and discard it quietly. "As much as it depends on you, live peaceably..."
But if it is consistent with God's Word, then we should accept it as being from the Lord regardless of how He chose to deliver it. After all, even a clock with a dead battery is right twice a day.
Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
A dull blade is useless. How can we expect for the Lord to use us, if we don't allow Him to sharpen us? If we want to be true followers of Christ, useful and effective in ministry and to be found faithful servants, we all will undergo discipline, sharpening, as painful as it may be.
5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.