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On the difference between punishment and discipline

Both punishment and discipline are painful, but that pain is put to very different purposes by God. God disciplines his children in love, as a means of correcting us (Heb. 12:11, Prov. 3:11-12, Rev. 3:19, etc. etc.). His punishment, however, is a matter of justice, meted out on those He hates – this is sinners getting their due.

This distinction between discipline and punishment is an important one to understand when it comes to spanking. Spanking should be discipline and never punishment. And to be discipline it must be administered in love. So when your oldest boy belts his little sister, he has a spanking coming to him, but not to return blow for blow – this isn’t about justice. Instead this about teaching him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, and teaching him to stay away from it.

That’s why a parent must never spank in anger. To do so is to confuse (in our own hearts, and in the our children’s perception) the purpose of this spanking. Was it intended as loving correction? It will hardly seem so when administered by a shouting parent – a child doesn’t need to be all that perceptive to spot the difference between angry vengeance and loving discipline.

So let us spank, but to the right end.

A version of this article first appeared in the September 2015 issue.


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