Discipline and Judgment

In our relationships with others we are commanded not to judge one another, but we are instructed to discipline one another when appropriate. Knowing the difference between the two has serious implications for how we relate to others. Judgment is related to a person’s character and discipline is related to a person’s behavior. Suppose you catch your son telling a lie and you say to him, “Son what you just said right now isn’t true.” You are not judging him. You are confronting him for the purpose of discipline. If you said, “Son, you are a liar,” that would be judging him.

Some attempts at discipline are nothing more than character assassination. If you called me dumb, or stupid, or arrogant, what could I do about it? I couldn’t instantly change my character. Making a negative judgment of another person’s character is a form of rejection and it causes one to be at odds with the other. But if you pointed out a behavior problem, I could own up to my sin, confess it, repent, and seek forgiveness from those I offended. I may have to live with the consequences of the sin, make restitution if warranted, but I would be reconciled with God and others.

Character is what we build up in one another, and we are not to tear it down. If all God’s children would memorize the following verse and never violate it, at least half of our church and family problems would disappear. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). According to the next verse, it grieves the Holy Spirit when we use our speech to tear down others rather than build them up. Let us do no evil to our neighbor. Let us speak the truth in love. In civil matters, let the judges in our courts decide our guilt or innocence based on witnesses, and let God be the judge of our character.

Discipline has to be based on observed behavior. You would have to personally see or hear what another person has said or done before you could rightfully confront them. The Mosaic law required two or three witnesses in order to carry out a capital punishment. The church is likewise instructed to have two or three witnesses before a sinning person is brought before the church (Matt. 18:15-20). If you caught a person in sin, confront them with the purpose of winning them back. If they don’t repent and there are no other witnesses the matter ends there. Discipline is not the same as punishment. Punishment is retroactive. Discipline is future oriented. God doesn’t punish us when we sin. He disciplines us so we don’t do it again. The punishment we deserved has already fallen on Christ.

Dr. Neil

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