Saturday, April 26, 2014

Discipline: Punishment or Consequences?

I love the story of the centurion in Matthew 8. Jesus has been healing as He walked along His way--those with leprosy, with demons, a paralytic, and in Capernaum, a centurion approached Him. Now, centurions were fierce dudes--not only soldiers, but commanders in the most proficient, and most deadly, army on earth. I have no doubt that the Hebrews' most common contact with these soldiers was to be ordered by them to do something--to get out of their way or to pay them respect or to carry something for them. But not this time.

This centurion's servant was dying. He was paralyzed and suffering and, whether the soldier fretted because he was losing his investment or whether he had genuine affection for the man, he nevertheless asked Jesus for a favor, the only recorded incident of a Roman soldier doing so. And, knowing what would happen next, Jesus says that He will go to the soldier's home to heal his servant.

This is where it gets good.

The soldier replies,
Lord, I am not worthy that you come under my roof. Only say the word and my servant will be healed.--Mathew 6:8

Lord, I am not worthy, he said. 
And neither am I. Not worthy that Christ forgave me. Not worthy that Christ healed me. Certainly not worthy that Christ lives in me.
I know I deserve to die. Now. A long time ago, in fact. And it hasn't happened.
I am stuck here. And I am not worthy.
I am not worthy of life, the life that God gave me, the life that belongs exclusively to Him.

So now what?

Now, like the centurion, I have to understand my position.
Yes, I deserve to die. I deserve to be cut off from God forever. So what is God going to do about it?
He will discipline me. 
Yes, He will. One way or another, I will know the result of what I have done, and that can happen in one of two ways. I will either experience the consequences of what I have done, or I will be punished.

They are not the same thing, you know. Consequences and punishment. They are different.
It's like this:
If my child starts a fight with little Joey at school, I am going to have to do something about it. He would know consequences when I march him back to school the next day, have him face Joey on the same playground in front of the same kids who watched him fight yesterday, and let them see and hear him apologize and admit to Joey that what he did was wrong. But he would know punishment if I called Family Services and told them to come and get the little violent monster and take him away, that I didn't want him for a son anymore.

See the difference? Consequences teach and preserve the relationship, keeping the love intact, but punishment ends the relationship, withdrawing the love.

God does the same thing.

Like my love for Joey, we are given God's love unconditionally. I could kick Joey to the curb for his transgressions, and God could do the same thing to me. I've earned it, after all. But, just like Joey acknowledges my place as parent in his life so that I can administer consequences rather than punish him, God allows me to stay close to Him, even when I don't deserve it, as long as I love Him back. 

Yes, you are unworthy, God says to me.
And I say the same thing to my children. They did nothing to be born and do not deserve any of the love and care we lavish on them. But they get it. They are unworthy, too.
Yes, you are unworthy, God says. 
But I love you.
Get over it.


  1. Oh, I love this! Thank goodness God does not give us what we deserve. As you say so rightly, what we deserve is death! But He is a merciful God and His grace abounds.

  2. God's grace makes no sense. And that's what makes it amazing.

    1. You're right, justbeth. It doesn't make sense. Maybe that's why we just don't understand it. But we can be grateful. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Preserving the relationship versus withdrawing the love - such an important distinction between those two words. Thank you, JoAnne, for such a thoughtful post.

    Nice to see you at Unforced Rhythms this week!

    1. Appreciate your encouragement. Thanks for your hospitality.