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The Lord corrects the people he loves and disciplines those he calls his own.” Hebrews 12:6 (CEV)

Say the word ‘discipline’ and the picture most of us have conjured up in our minds is a child sitting in the corner or being spanked or some other painful situation. ‘Discipline’ and ‘punishment’ are often considered to be the same thing even though they are really quite different.

Punishment is backward looking. If I get a speeding ticket, it’s not offered to me because I may speed tomorrow, it’s given to me because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my speed in the past several miles. Punishment is intended to cause pain either physically, financially or emotionally.

Discipline, on the other hand, is forward looking. A championship runner is considered disciplined because he/she forces themselves to run every day and push themselves to better themselves every time they step out of the house.

Discipline and punishment have on thing in common. Both are painful. Both are intended to make you ‘better’ but the attitude behind each is tremendously different. Punishment comes without relationship. Discipline almost always comes as a result of relationship. I discipline my children by teaching them standards, principles and skills that will prepare them for life in the future. Why? Because I love them and I want more than anything for them to succeed.

Will the discipline be hard? Sometimes. Will there be pain? Yes, especially if they make choices that are contrary to the principles we’ve established. But that pain will come as a result of the consequences of their behavior, not as a result of my anger.

Discipline, while painful, is necessary if we are going to succeed on the path our journey takes us on. Frank A. Clark states, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

God, as our loving Heavenly Father, wants nothing more than for us to feel fulfilled in life. Many people see his rules as restrictive, out of touch or even painful. Some focus on the ‘punishment of God’ and refer to it as God’s punishment when, in reality it’s simply the consequences of behavior God warns us against.

If you passionately love someone you will do everything in your power to prepare them for life ahead. You’ll tell them the things to avoid. You’ll warn them of the consequences of certain behaviors. You’ll tell them of the dangers associated with certain places. Why? Because you love them. As one writer states, “discipline is administered by a loving forward looking parent with an eye on helping the child become all that they can become.” Your Heavenly Father feels this way about you.

Don’t mistake the consequences of your choices as God’s punishment. Listen to his direction and realize they are only for your good. Remember that even while enduring the consequences he offers hope, forgiveness and strength to carry on.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for loving me enough to discipline me even though at times it’s painful. Give me wisdom and courage to follow your way. Amen


Israel, I won’t lose my temper and destroy you again. I am the Holy God—not merely some human, and I won’t stay angry. Hosea 11:9 (CEV)

The difference between punishment and discipline hinges on the desired outcome. When a wrong is done, the human response is revenge. Those who do wrong must pay. It’s Justice.

What is it that gives the parent freedom in the courtroom to forgive the drunk driver that killed her child? What is it that empowers the father to visit the man in prison that molested his daughter? How can a spouse forgive when he/she has been cheated on, abused or humiliated? How can you forgive a God who claims to be loving but allows famine, cancer and war to tear the lives of people apart?

The answer boils down to a single word: value. It’s a matter of mercy over justice. Man seeks justice because justice demands repayment for sin. Punishment is the motivation for justice, but punishment will never fully repay for actions done.

To the mother that forgives the drunk driver, all the pain, all the anger, all the hatred and all the prison time in the world will never bring her daughter home. There is no amount of time in prison that will heal the scars the molester leaves on the life of a young girl. There is nothing that will heal a broken heart.

Man’s punishment is never intended to improve the life of the perpetrator. On the other hand, God seeks to amend, to build up, to correct. His actions are intended to correct an error so that the guilty person can continue on the journey stronger, more confident and more useful.

That’s not to say we should never send anyone to prison, or that justice should never be served. The justice system, flawed as it may be, is designed to physically protect us from those who would harm us, but that system was never intended to deal with issues of the heart.

God’s dealing with us is a simple case of mercy over justice; of natural consequences over penalty; of value over revenge. The two may look the same in some cases but one destroys value the other is intended to build character. One is motivated by love, the other by anger; one frees us, the other enslaves us; one brings eternal life, one brings eternal separation from a holy and loving God.

Whether you are sitting behind physical bars of a prison or emotional bars made from the scars of a life gone wrong, know this. The God of the universe isn’t into punishment for the sake of punishment; his goal in allowing you to go through whatever you are going through is to build character in you. He values you far beyond anything else in the world.

PRAYER: Lord, even though you have freed me through Jesus there are still times I want to keep others in the prison of their souls. There are times I live entrapped by my own guilt and shame. Help me to see the value you have in me and pass that value on to others. Amen.


Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. 1 John 4:18 (NCV)

As my children approached the age where they could drive, we made a family rule. It was a simple rule intended to instill the importance of safety, not intended to cause pain or harm. The rule was that if, in the first month of driving on their own, they got a speeding ticket, they would lose driving privileges for one week. I’d get their license and their keys.

One night my daughter was returning from the city with some friends. As she came off the interstate and onto the highway leading home she instinctively hit the cruise control. Within a mile she was back up to the interstate cruising speed. Within a couple more miles she saw the dreaded flashing red lights in her rear view mirror.

The problem was, the interstate speed was too fast for the highway speed. She was given a ticket for speeding. I still remember the night this all happened. She walked into the house license and keys in hand and gave them to me. She then told us what happened (her version of course). In the course of the conversation she mentioned that one of her friends asked if she was afraid to come home and tell me about the ticket. My daughter told her “No, I know what will happen.” That was the end of it.

I wish I could say this was an example of every disciplinary action at our home, but it wasn’t. It does given an example of God’s love though. My daughter knew well in advance of the consequences. There was no yelling or screaming, and there were no surprises. In a love relationship that’s how ‘wrongs’ are handled.

When the Father came looking for Adam and Eve for his evening walk, they hid in the bushes. Why? They were afraid. Did they have reason? Well, they thought they did. However, God certainly wasn’t surprised by their actions. There is no indication in scripture that the interaction between God and the couple was full of anger. He was harsh with the serpent, but he was gentle in handing out the natural consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.

That first account of sin is a perfect example of love without fear. Even though God handed out consequences, he also handed out healing. When God took away the fig leaves and clothed them with animal skins it was a symbol of taking away the shame and offering emotional healing.

God’s not into punishment. What he is into is doing whatever is necessary to bring us into a loving relationship with him. A loving relationship built on trust, mercy and grace. A relationship that drives out fear and brings peace.

The phrase “Just wait until your father comes home” is sometimes used when punishment is inevitable. But when it comes to your Heavenly Father there is no fear in his return. He loves you. The sin you bear need only be a temporary glitch in the relationship. A glitch that can be forgiven through Jesus. 

PRAYER: Father God, I praise you for your love and patience with me. I thank you for the fact that your love is a love that harbors no fear, no revenge and no anger. Empower me to live free of the lies the enemy tells me about your anger with me. Help me to show love to others the way you have shown love to me. Amen.

 


Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)

Sometimes it’s important to remember that the chapter numbers and verse numbers in the Bible are fairly recent additions. Before that there were no divisions to the books and letters of the Bible. The reader would understand the change in thought processes of the author by wording and grammatical changes much as we do in a novel or other piece of journalism.

When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus he was writing about practical living as Christ followers. The particular section our verse comes from today is a whole section on family living that begins with “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (5:21). Then Paul goes on to give examples to wives, husbands, parents, children and bosses and employees on how to be submissive to each other because of Jesus Christ and our desire to follow Him.

When Paul addresses fathers in Ephesians 6:4 he’s not really telling the rest of us to stop listening. The lesson he is teaching fathers is one each of us should learn to follow. The lesson is basically this. Our actions towards others should never intentionally cause them to be angry.

Discipline has gotten a bad rap in our society because it is often linked with or confused with punishment. The root word of ‘discipline’ is disciple, a word that implies a follower or a set of rules or a person. It is not a ‘forced event’ but a voluntary one. Punishment on the other hand is something that is forced upon a person.

  • Punishment can be done in anger and cause permanent damage.
    • Discipline is never done in anger and while it can be painful, the pain is temporary.
  • Punishment can cause hatred or frustration on the part of the receiver.
    • Discipline may cause temporary misunderstanding but eventually the receiver see the value of the ‘rules’.
  • Punishment can often be an act of aggression and frustration on the part of the deliverer of the punishment.
    • Discipline is done in patience and love.
  • Punishment can be administered to protect the person who does the punishment to ‘protect himself’.
    • Discipline is always done for the benefit of the receiver, perhaps even at some cost to the person doing the discipling.
  • Punishment degrades both parties in the ‘situation’.
    • Discipline elevates both parties in the ‘situation’.
  • Punishment forces the individual being punished into a mold that may not be in his/her best interest.
    • Discipline shapes a person’s character in a way that best fulfills his/her gifts and abilities.
  • Punishment changes behavior.
    • Discipline grows character.
  • Punishment is quick and effective.
    • Discipline is time consuming and eternal.

Each of us, no matter what role we play in life will, at some time, be in a position where we are training others for life’s journey. The best way we can do that is to disciple those around us by:

  • allowing them to grow at their own pace.
  • showing them the way of true life through Jesus Christ.
  • Praying that Jesus will change their minds towards Him.
  • Patiently determining to love them regardless of the choices they make.

PRAYER: Holy Father. I am a victim of punishment done with good intent but with painful results. As I’ve grown older I’ve tended to follow the same patterns I learned as I grew up. Empower me through your Holy Spirit to love as Jesus loved, disciple as He disciple and help those around me to grow in character as a result of what they see in me. Forgive me for the pain I’ve caused. Heal the scars of my past. Amen.

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