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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:31-32 Punitive or corrective?

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 2, 2023

31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we undergo judgment, we are being disciplined by the Lord so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

What is the goal of punishment? If we answer as citizens of one nation or another, we may come up with very different answers. Different judges sitting in courts in the same state will have different answers to this question: Is punishment punitive or corrective?

In the Bible, we must set aside the hats we wear as citizens and listen to what God says about punishment. If we imagine that God punishes sin in order to correct our behavior, what will we say about eternal damnation? Whose behavior does eternity in hell serve to correct? In the Bible and according to the will of God, punishment is not corrective but punitive. Even a Christian who is being chastised by God is suffering this punishment because God hates sin. Punishment and chastening from God are acts of the law, not the gospel. The law does not beckon to or turn anyone. The law condemns.

This is how the world in ancient times saw punishment, and even more recently this still was the case. The idea of punishment as correcting wrong behavior may have been as a side effect, but it was not the main purpose, nor was it really seen that way. “He was whipped for getting the shrieve’s (daughter) with child” (All’s Well that Ends Well IV:3). “Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy” (Love’s Labours Lost IV:3). “Horrible villain! I’ll spurn thine eyes like balls before me; I’ll unhair your head. Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire and stew’d in brine, smarting in lingering pickle” (Antony and Cleopatra II:5).

Therefore when God allows punishments to come to us, it is to cause us to see hell and its everlasting punishments as the next step, and be terrified. For only the soul that is terrified will see that he cannot hang on to his sin. It must go, it must be gone from his life. Then the gospel can do its work, its wonderful work, and assure the sinner of forgiveness in Christ.

This is his goal with mankind: That we will not be condemned; that we will live with him forever in heaven. So he sends his punishments to rebuke us, to punish us, and to frighten us. Then the law has done its work. Then the gospel can soothe the wounds and bind up the grief and hold us with the loving arms of the Father.

This is also why God sends us the sacraments, so that we will have their assurances that our faith is not in vain. For God could surely have provided other things, other actions, as substitutes (Matthew 3:9), and God could (on account of his power) operate without them in our lives. But in his wisdom God saw fit to institute the sacraments for our sake. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). So it follows that willful neglect of the sacraments will rob a man of the assurances that God has provided for his faith. Luke warns: “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and Scribes rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Luke 7:29-30).

And while the word also creates and sustains faith apart from the sacraments, little children are blessed apart from the Lord’ Supper (Mark 10:13-16) and the Old Testament believers lived apart from the sacraments (Hebrews 11:1-40) and so on. God has seen fit to give us their special blessings in part because we are looking back upon the reality of the historical Jesus, and in part to supply us with special help as we live in an increasingly ungodly and wicked world. Our Father loves us and wants to bless us, to save us from our sins, and to bring us home to himself in heaven, as he says, “So that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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