Discipline or Punishment?

Do you discipline your kids for sins, or punish them for mistakes?


We all need discipline, otherwise we would go off in all directions… but do we need punishment? Is that our job… or does God handle that? (cf. Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30; 2Pet 2:3)

This week my wife and I traveled the four hours (plus the time change) to Indianapolis for the Real Marriage Tour with Mark Driscoll.

I purchased his book and read it several months ago. I thought, and still think, it’s one of the best books on marriage that has been written from a practical and biblical perspective. That’s not an endorsement of everything in the book (see chapter 10), but it is extremely helpful, especially in the area of being friends with your spouse. This strikes me as a “missing piece of the puzzle” in most marriages, and something that Beth and I figured out long ago… she is my best friend.

Anyway, one thing that Mark said in passing was in regard to disciplining a child. We are called to “correct” not to “punish.” I had never thought of it like that before… and I think he’s right.

For the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

-Prov 3:12

God disciplines (same word for “reproof”) His children just like a (good) father corrects His children.

I’m in the position to see parents come to me with the woes of their grown children. They are, usually, away from the Lord, out of church, and perhaps even denying the faith. “How can this happen?” they ask. Here is what I know, if they are a child of God, that is, if they have entered into a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, then they will receive the discipline of the Lord.

Jesus is the good shepherd who goes after that one lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:3-7 7 Matt 18:12-14).

But why would God cause us this pain? It is for our benefit. It is not a “punishment,” Jesus already received our punishment. It is for “correction.” It is to bring us back to Him, to help us to align out lives more with the path He has for us.

In the same way, when your children make a mistake, do not “punish” them. None of us need “punishment,” what we need is “correction” for our sin.

A child is walking through the kitchen, trips and falls. As she does, the crayon in her hand marks on the wall. That is a mistake. “Be more careful next time” and perhaps allow her to help in the clean-up.

On the other hand, a child is running through the kitchen, and there is an existing “no running in the house” rule, she trips, and she marks on the wall. Well, there is a need for “correction” because she broke the rule (sin) and the result made a mark on the wall.

It is a subtle difference, but to me, it was profound.

Perhaps, much of our discipline is more punishment than correction… perhaps we need to ask forgiveness of our God and of our children for that.

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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