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I’m your host AMBrewster, and today we’re finally getting to a subject about which we have talked as we have studied other concepts, but which we haven’t really studied on its own to the degree that we should.
And, I must admit that that this is more of an introductory study of the subject. There will be much more left to say when we’re done, but I pray that these four episodes will get us thinking about how we approach punishment and consequences in our families.
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And now let’s talk about punishment and consequences in the family.
In order to properly introduce this idea, we need to talk semantics.
1. An Important Extended Introduction Concerning Language
I was speaking with an English professor the other day who encouraged me greatly as we discussed the differences between the English and French translations of Psalm 23.
In Psalm 23:5 we read, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
I want to focus on the word “cup” for a moment.
I love to drink hot tea, and I love to drink it from hand-thrown pottery. To that end, I own many mugs — most of which were created by my cousin who owns and operates Hollowed Earth Pottery.
He has made so many different cups in his life. No doubt, he couldn’t even tell you how many different cups and mugs he’s made.
Most likely, you too have cupboards full of cups in all shapes and sizes. I have tiny little cups for diminutive hands, and I have massive tumblers which hold more liquid than the average person could drink in one sitting. You probably have sippy-cups, water bottles, wine glasses, and mugs.
But — technically — they’re all one kind of cup or another.
Well, my new friend, Kelly, was sharing with me that the French word used to translate the Hebrew word for cup is not the regular-old French word for cup. It’s a word that specifically designates a very large cup — a mammoth cup. And she was reflecting on the beautiful fact that when God overflows our cups, He’s not merely providing 16 ounces of blessing. No, God sends barrels of grace more than we could ever ask or think. And by deliberately using that specific French word for cup, the translators communicated something very precious.
But — let’s be honest — only the French reading that particular translation would likely come to that conclusion with ease. I know — for me — that I’ve always just pictured an average size drinking class. The truth was pleasant, but never quite as overwhelming as it was yesterday.
However, perhaps your understanding of God always caused you to imagine a gigantic swimming-pool sized-cup when you read that verse.
The point is, do you see how easy it is to read different ideas into the Scripture?
In the same way we’ve often spoken about the ease with which we can read into the Scriptures modern or fallacious understandings of words — words like faith, love, the spirit, the heart, and so on — we will also read wrong concepts into Biblical teaching where the words were never even used.
Just like I can read Psalm 23:5 and inappropriately picture a shot glass with a few drips running down the side, I can also take the idea of punishment and read it into the passages that describe how parents are supposed to discipline their kids.
Now, why is this conversation so incredibly important that I’ve taken all of these minutes to discuss it?
If you look up the English word “punish” in a reputable dictionary, you will find definitions very much like the one I found in Merriam-Webster:
“To impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation, to inflict a penalty for the commission of an offense in retribution or retaliation, to deal with roughly or harshly, to inflict injury on.”
And — you know what — those are fantastic definitions of the English word “punish.”
And when it comes to the word “punish,” many translators utilize it at the right times. The English word “punish” shows up 4 times in the NASB translation of the New Testament. Three of those times it’s being used in a legal sense — as in an authority who has the judicial right to give punishment. The last time it’s used, it’s referring to unique apostolic authority to punish disobedience.
However, colloquially, nearly every English-speaking home in American uses that word to describe an activity that shouldn’t be understood in the same way.
When your child does wrong, is it your intention to inflict injury on them?
When your child lies, do you intend to deal roughly or harshly with them?
When they disobey, is your response that of retribution or retaliation?
What about this? When your child throws their food on the floor, is what comes next the result of your wanting to impose a penalty on a fault, offense, or violation?
Hopefully, the answer to all of those questions is, “No.”
Parental correction is never anywhere in Scripture defined or illustrated as being penal in nature. And every discussion in the Bible concerning punishment has no bearing on the home.
God gives governments the right to exact penal consequences. God Himself is actually the prefect example of righteous punishment. He condemns people to hell as the holy response to their offense against His character.
But parents — unless they are acting in a governmental faculty as they preside over the crimes of their own children — should not approach discipline in the same way.
Here’s the point, by utilizing the wrong word, by attaching the wrong ideas to biblical concepts, I believe most Christian families have completely skewed God’s intention for family discipline.
And I believe it’s been skewed in a huge, life-altering way.
So, we must now consider the nature of punishment and consequences.
2. The Nature of Family Punishment
At its most basic, punishment is a transaction. It has very clearly defined participants and purposes that are unique to it.
The participants are the criminal and the judge. The criminal has broken the law, and the judge is tasked with upholding the law by — in part — punishing evil doers. I Peter 2:14 reads, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”
The purpose of the punishment is two-fold. On one hand, it’s designed to serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals. On the other hand, after a crime has been committed, the punishment is an eye-for-an-eye transaction.
You stole something. You must pay it back with interest.
You perpetrated some crime. You must serve your time.
You killed someone. You must forfeit your life.
Within the relationship between crime and punishment there is no purpose beyond giving people what they deserve. Punishment is not interested in rehabilitation. In fact, punishment doesn’t really care if the perpetrator “learns a lesson.” Sure, it would be nice if they learned their lesson so that we would have less crime and have to give fewer punishments, but that’s not the purpose of punishment.
Punishment is handed down from a judge to a criminal as a judicial transaction. You owe the system, and here’s how you’re going to pay that debt.
That’s why there is no room in a just courtroom for grace, mercy, or forgiveness. There are only crime and punishments — debits and credits.
That, my friends is what punishment is. To act like there are any other meanings or understandings of the word is to water it down — deliberately or unintentionally.
But the real problem is not that we’re propounding a false understanding of punishment. The real issue is that we believe punishment — as it’s properly defined — is exactly what God expects from parents with their children.
But you will not find that concept anywhere in the Bible.
“Yes, but Aaron, what about sparing the rod and spoiling the child?”
That’s a very important biblical concept that we ignore to our family’s detriment, but that it not a passage about punishment. I’ll explain more soon enough, but first we need to see what actually happens when parents punish their kids.
If I, the father, believe it’s my God-given responsibility to truly punish my children, at least four very bad things are going happen.
First, I’m going to misunderstand God and His expectation for me.
Second, I’m going to pervert the discipline God wants me to give.
Third, I’m going to lead my children astray by giving them the wrong idea about God and authority.
Fourth, I’m going to tempt my kids to reject me.
God is the final judge of mankind. That’s His responsibility, and He has never given that job to me. As the Ultimate Authority and Creator of the Universe, it is His right to punish sin. But — as we’ve often observed — we are not that authority. We are an authority. We do have Inherent Authority, and we also have Inherited Authority, but — as parents — neither of those roles give us permission to punish. God gives us our parental roles, and — as the Ultimate Authority — He’s the one who gets to decide how we function within our authority.
Therefore, if I believe God wants me to merely make my child pay for their sin, I’m neither correctly understanding who God is nor what His expectations for me are.
And if I misunderstand who I and Who God is, my discipline is going to be perverted. I will likely do all the wrong things in the wrong ways for the wrong reasons and in the wrong power. Now, there’s a slight chance I might do the right thing, and I may even do it the right way, but if I’m doing it for the wrong reason and in the wrong power, it’s still detrimental for me and my kids.
Not only does my child receive a punishment that I should likely not be giving them for reasons I shouldn’t be giving it to them, but I’m lying to my children about the nature of parental discipline, God, and my role as an authority.
And as I do that, I tempt my child to do the same thing to me that I just did to them. If I wrongfully believe that I’m allowed to make my kids pay for what they did, how can I hope to think my kids won’t try to make me pay for what I did to them?
At that point I can’t legitimately think my sinful flexing of authority that isn’t mine is any better than their sinful flexing of authority that isn’t theirs — especially when it was I who taught them to wrongfully use me-against-you punishments in the first place.
Now, as we transition to our final point for today, let me recap this point.
Punishment is nothing more nor less than a mere penal accounting with no expectation or process for change. It demands pain to pay for pain. It requires discomfort from them to cover the cost of the discomfort they caused someone else.
And though punishment is a very real thing that can and should be done to God’s glory by the right people, it’s not the parent’s job — and we’ll see this from Scripture as the next few episodes unfold.
But allow me to take this idea one step further.
Punishment meted out by an appropriate authority is Christ-honoring judgement. Punishment meted out by someone who doesn’t have that authority is called sinful vengeance.
Remember, punishment is a penal repayment. By your actions, you purchased a penalty. The wages of sin is death — you earn punishment by breaking the law.
Hebrews chapter 10 illustrates appropriate punishment beautifully. Verses 26-31 read, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
The “Vengeance is mine” is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35.
But in Romans 12:19-21, Paul quotes the same passage with a very different goal in mind. He says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. 20 ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When we exercise inappropriate judgment, we’re taking God’s job and engaging in sinful vengeance.
Now, it’s at this point in the mind of a believing parent — as they learn these truths and start to realize that they have been going about their family discipline the wrong way — that said parent is tempted to respond the wrong way.
A. Some parents execute a pendulum swing in the opposite direction and stop giving any negative consequences all-together.
However, this is just as unbiblical. Even though parents like this often strive to pair this approach with the very biblical idea of giving positive reinforcement, they’re still not obeying very clear commands in the Bible for Christ-honoring consequences.
But then . . .
B. Other parents will superficially start itemizing different forms of discipline into arbitrary categories. They will decide that spanking can only ever be punishment, but that something like grounding falls under the godly-correction category.
Again, this is completely missing the point and causes just as much harm as punishing the kids did.
So, since the only way to glorify God in any area in our lives is to know the depth and breadth of His Word, understand it, and live it, we must apply diligence to accurately understanding consequences within the context of parenting.
So, let’s finish off Part 1 by considering . . .
3. The Nature of Family Consequences
First, let me say that the next two episodes are going to go into extreme detail concerning the nature of consequences. My goal here today is merely to contrast the idea of consequences with what we’ve learned about punishment.
Second, let’s define our terms. Merriam-Webster’s best definition of “consequences” for our purposes here is, “something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions.”
I like to explain it this way — Jesus uses so many parables comparing spiritual realities with physical realities because He created the physical world to not only be intricately attached by the spiritual, but He also created it to mirror the spiritual realities.
One such reality is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Consequences — whether comfortable or uncomfortable — are a natural reaction to the initial action.
When I eat healthy and exercise, I lose unhealthy weight. However, when I live a sedentary lifestyle and overeat, I layer on the fat.
Getting fat is not a punishment; it’s a consequence.
Now, at the same time, I have to admit that Christ-honoring punishments are consequences. In the world God created, when you sin, death comes. When you break the law, you should receive the just consequence of that crime.
But punishments are simply a type of consequence. Not all consequence are punishments.
Another inherent difference between non-penal consequences and punishment is that they have different purposes.
Whereas punishment is a legal repayment of a debt, consequences have two important purposes.
A. Consequences make existence possible.
Let me explain.
Since consequences are the reaction to action, they make up two sides of the same coin. They can’t exist without the other.
If consequences didn’t exist, you couldn’t walk across the floor, eat food, or survive. Actions without reactions do not exist anywhere in the entire cosmos, and you are happy that it works that way.
As you type on your keyboard, you expect an appropriate reaction. As you inhale, you expect an appropriate reaction. If it were possible to do anything without producing any kind of reaction, that thing would not be worth doing. And since life is the complex interactions between systems, we would die the moment a beating heart failed to produce the necessary reaction.
So, on one side — by necessity of its existence — consequences make everything in life possible. But there is another very important purpose for consequences.
B. Consequences teach.
Whereas punishment is the application of pain for pain’s sake, non-penal consequences — though they may be painful or comfortable — have the higher purpose of imparting information.
God created the action of accidentally touching a hot surface to produce the reaction of getting burned because He wanted the painful consequence to teach us an important lesson about touching hot surfaces.
What’s funny is that often — in our thinking — we adulterate God’s intention. If our kids touch something we’ve warned them not to touch, and they get burned, we handle that consequence as if it were an appropriate punishment the chid received for breaking the law!
But that’s not what it is at all!
But we have such a messed up, prosperity-gospel approach to life that we can only ever interpret what we view as being beneficial as God’s stamp of approval on our lives, and everything uncomfortable as God’s condemnation on our lives.
Anyway, when consequences are stripped of their intended design — to teach us about life — we get into a lot of trouble.
On one hand, when we don’t learn from consequences, we’re doomed to repeat them. History is the living record of that reality. And as a biblical counselor, I see this happen all the time.
People convince themselves that the consequences that other people have experienced — and even the consequences they have experienced over and over — were a fluke that either shouldn’t have happened in the first place or won’t happen to them. And regardless of how many times the same consequences come into their lives, they’re absolutely certain that one day that will be able to have their cake and eat it too.
Of course, Einstein rightfully identified that kind of thinking as insanity.
On the other hand, when we interpret consequences within a punishment framework, we distract from the teaching the consequence was intended to provide.
Now, recognizing how non-penal consequences are different from penal-consequences, the Bible’s teaching concerning the role of the parent becomes abundantly clear.
Again, we’re going to get into much more detail over the next three episodes, but allow me to summarize how they work here.
As a parent, it is not our God-given right to divvy out final judgement. We’re not to write-off our kids. We’re not to portion out pain because the child earned it.
We are commanded by God to teach our kids, reprove our kids, correct our kids, and train our kids. We’re called to nurture our children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. We’re called to speak the truth of God in the love of God and teach our kids how to know, understand, and wisely live that truth in their lives.
That is our calling.
And, yes, that calling absolutely requires consequences — both comfortable and painful. But we absolutely must understand and submit to the purpose of the consequences otherwise we’re going to slip into punishment-mode and work contrary to God’s will.
When our kids sin, there will be consequences that occur whether or not we do anything about it and whether or not the children even recognize that the consequences took place. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to lovingly teach our children about the reality of those consequences.
In addition to that, God expects for us to introduce as necessary additional consequences designed to teach the child vital lessons about what they did — the initial action.
And the whole goal is maturity — learning that leads to understanding that leads to wise living.
Of course, there’s so much more that needs to be said. And that’s why we’re going to continue the study.
So, please do two things. First, share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that other parents can join us in this vital conversation. And second, please join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to best worship God with our parenting.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the nature of primary consequences and how God wants parents to interact with them.
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