What is the difference between punishment and discipline?
Punishment hurts, but so does discipline. When you punish your child for a wrong action are you punishing them or are you administering discipline? Both might be a swat on the back side of the lap, but is there a difference or are they exactly the same thing?
Does God ever punish those He created? Does He send pain? Of course. In Joshua 7 we read the story of Achan and how he was stoned because of his sin. (Being stoned to death must have been a bit painful.)
Here are just a very few verses that show us that punishment does come from God:
Numbers 35:31 (NIV)
Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.
Exodus 22:18 (NIV)
Do not allow a sorceress to live.
Deuteronomy 17:12 (NIV)
The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.
And of course we must not forget the punishment of the wicked at the end of time:
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Malachi 4:3 (NIV)
Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the LORD Almighty.
Is "punishment" God's normal way of dealing with those who don't do what He asks them to do?
For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
Please notice that punishment is a strange thing for the Lord to do. According to this verse punishment is not what He normally does. But it is obvious that God has and will punish the wicked.
Let's take a look at the definition of each word and see if we can find a difference:
1 : the act of punishing
2 : suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution b : a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure
3 : severe, rough, or disastrous treatment
1 : punishment
2 : (obsolete) instruction
3 : a field of study
4 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c : self-control
6 : a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity
Discipline's definition #4 in the list above, "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character", in other words, MOTIVE, is the key. God is in the saving business, and almost everything He does is geared towards perfecting the moral character of His kids. So we can look at almost everything God allows us to go through as being something we actually need that will strengthen our character. An example of discipline in action can be seen in the life of Joseph who was sold as a child into slavery and taken to Egypt. Another example can be seen in the life of Job who was tried way more than most of us will ever be tried. Both of these men became stronger because of their hardships.
But if discipline does not work then punishment follows, punishment of pain, disastrous treatment and eventually death. An example of punishment would be the fires of Hell that come when all else has been done that could be done to bring about a perfected character. This is a “strange act” on the part of God, but it is something that He must do to eventually rid the entire universe of sin and sinners and so that He can make everything new.
The eventual outcome, the results of God's discipline, is up to us because we can choose to change or we can refuse. But if we refuse to allow this discipline to perfect our characters then we can expect the punishment of death in the end. God will allow only those who want to be perfect like Jesus into Heaven because sin (imperfection) causes death (Romans 6:23) and there will be NO death in Heaven.
God is NOT "a mean old MAN", but is a patient and loving Father.