When I was a Boy Scout, many years ago, going to Summer Camp was a great adventure. Living in a tent with other boys, hiking forest trails, and learning new skills were memorable experiences. One class that was useful then, and which I still find useful today, was how to safely handle a hatchet or small axe. These hand tools are essential in camping and being a woodsman. Our counselor showed us how to sharpen the cutting edge of the axe, explaining that a sharp tool is much more useful—and safer—than a dull one. All craftsmen, artisans, and others who use cutting tools will attest to this fact. They spend quality time sharpening and maintaining the cutting edge on their tools.
While this is very basic, the principle seems to be lost on many people. Anciently, Solomon made an important point in the Book of Wisdom known as Ecclesiastes. He wrote, “If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Putting this in the vernacular, we might say, “To be successful, chop with a sharp axe.” So, whatever your endeavor—including your job or profession, and in your relationships with others—you should be “sharp.” That means being attentive to others and aware of your surroundings. As coaches tell their players, “Keep your head in the game!” Being sharp includes being good at what you do, knowing the rules and abiding by them, and being productive in your use of time and other resources.
Those who are “sharp” in these areas are usually successful and are often at the top in their field.
While this truism applies to physical endeavors, there is also a spiritual component to it as well. In several places in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the condition of being “dull” is described in very negative terms. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet describes the idolatrous practices of the heathen nations, which Israel was adopting to its shame. A custom of that time was very similar to the practice of so many today during the Christmas season. “For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple” (Jeremiah 10:3–4). Why would they do this when God had said, “Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain…” (vv. 2–3, KJV)? We find the answer in verse eight: “But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish….” We certainly do not want to be “dull hearted” or foolish!
In the New Testament, as Jesus taught the multitudes, feeding them and healing them, they did not comprehend His message. He explained the reason, “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them’” (Matthew 13:14–15).
Like the craftsmen who are careful to keep their tools sharp, each of us has the responsibility to “be sharp” when it comes to the important things in life, such as our moral values and rules for living. Yet, most go with the flow of the confused world around them with the customs and practices that bring intractable problems. The Bible contains instructions for a different Way of life that brings enlightenment and great benefits. Will you be “dull hearted” and ignore these vital instructions? Or, will you “chop with a sharp axe” and put them into practice in your life? The choice is yours.