Has something ever happened to you that made you wonder if God was disciplining you?
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
What is the Purpose of God's Discipline?
Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.
Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; 13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
God disciplines us because He loves us. It’s for our good. He is our father helping us to grow in maturity.
Is Discipline the Same as Punishment?
Some Christians don’t like the idea of saying that God punishes us. It makes God sound mean. But let’s not get hung up on the connotations of a word. If God “punishes,” we can trust that He’s doing it for the same reasons He disciplines. Both are meant to bring about us to repentance.
I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’
As we can see, punishment and discipline seem to be the same thing as the two terms are being used synonymously in this verse.
How Does God Discipline or Punish Us?
We have a record of all the ways that God punished people in the Old Testament, from plagues and war to barrenness and unfruitful seasons.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul gives an example of one way God was disciplining Christians.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
The Apostle says "many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."
The early Christians thought that God punished them in a variety of ways. This is a quote from The Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 6, chapter 3.
“This,” he replied, “is the angel of punishment; and he belongs to the just angels, and is appointed to punish. He accordingly takes those who wander away from God, and who have walked in the desires and deceits of this world, and chastises them as they deserve with terrible and diverse punishments.”
“I would know, sir,” I said, “Of what nature are these diverse tortures and punishments?”
“Hear,” he said, “the various tortures and punishments. The tortures are such as occur during life. For some are punished with losses, others with want, others with sicknesses of various kinds, and others with all kinds of disorder and confusion; others are insulted by unworthy persons, and exposed to suffering in many other ways: for many, becoming unstable in their plans, try many things, and none of them at all succeed, and they say they are not prosperous in their undertakings; and it does not occur to their minds that they have done evil deeds, but they blame the Lord. When, therefore, they have been afflicted with all kinds of affliction, then are they delivered unto me for good training, and they are made strong in the faith of the Lord; and for the rest of the days of their life they are subject to the Lord with pure hearts, and are successful in all their undertakings, obtaining from the Lord everything they ask; and then they glorify the Lord, that they were delivered to me, and no longer suffer any evil.”
So, Biblically and in Christian tradition, there are many ways God can punish us. I would also add the conviction we receive from the Holy Spirit and our conscience is a form of discipline. We all know sometimes a simple word or look from a disapproving parent can be all the punishment we need.
Who Does God Punish?
God punished groups of people, and He punishes people individually.
But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.
God punished the Egyptians en masse. Note that He used nature in all of the plagues.
2 Samuel 7:14:
I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.
Speaking of King David, God is saying that He will punish David by using other people.
Sometimes, God even punished future generations.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
And in the Scripture above regarding Communion, we saw that God disciplines Christians.
How Can I Know When God is Punishing Me?
This is the most difficult question to answer regarding this subject. Even the disciples needed clarification.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
As in the case of this blind man, and in the case of Job in the Old Testament, sometimes bad things happen in our lives without us doing anything wrong. So, when the result is the same, how do you tell the difference between when God is disciplining you individually and when you're simply reaping the consequences of living in a Fallen world?
How do you tell what you're being disciplined for?
I think the best answer is to rely on the Holy Spirit and your conscience. If you’ve done something wrong, or if you’ve neglected to do something right, count the bad things happening to you as the Lord’s discipline.
If your conscience is clear and the Holy Spirit isn’t convicting you of anything, count the occurrence as something bad happening either because of someone else’s sin or simply as a result of living in a world that doesn’t operate as it should.