At my feet writhes a tiny person with a mega temper tantrum. Although guilty as charged, it doesn’t seem to matter. His objections intensify. He screams. He thrashes. Correction hurts whether you are a three-year-old or an adult, the giver or receiver. Have you ever wondered, “what does the Bible say about correction?”
The Bible includes several interchangeable words on this subject, which translate in various ways in our English Bibles. The most common words are discipline, punishment, rebuke, reproof, chastisement, and instruction.
What Words Does the Bible Use for Correction?
The word “correction” regards changing something wrong to make it right or better. “Yasar” and “musar” in the Old Testament, and “pideuo” in the New Testament, embrace the idea of corrective discipline. God revealed Himself to His people by instructing them on right and wrong. His reproof sought a change in His people for their betterment, godliness, and protection. God’s people benefited from His correction. We do too.
God considered correction important for our relationship with Him. The Bible repeatedly speaks about it in various forms. Proverbs alone mentions it at least 36 times. What does the Bible say about correction? We understand better by looking at it through His eyes.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11 ESV)
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV)
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV)
“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” (Proverbs 10:17 ESV)
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
What Does the Bible Say about Correction for Children?
Remember that little child with the mega temper tantrum? What does the Bible say about correction for children?
Correction begins in the home. Both the Old and New Testaments relate discipline to familial connection, helpful to the community as a body, and helpful to individual growth.
Proverbs 13:24 states that whoever loves their child will discipline them diligently. Proverbs also challenges parents to train children while young so that as adults, they will know how to conduct their lives (Proverbs 22:6).
Ephesians 6:4 warns fathers not to incite anger in their children but rather encourage them through corrective instruction, which points them to the Lord. As unpleasant as doling out correction may feel, Proverbs 29:15 tells us a lack of discipline brings shame to mothers. In contrast, well-disciplined offspring bring their parents delight (Proverbs 29:17).
What Does the Bible Say about Correction for Criminals?
God set down laws for how people should live in what we know as the Ten Commandments. What the Bible says about correction for criminals in Exodus 20 still provides a foundation for society today. The same sins—stealing, murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality—that plagued the world then plague us now. How we administer correction reflects on all of us as a people and nation.
Scripture sets down lawful boundaries and places authorities who enforce them. Certainly, without fear of punishment, a lawbreaker’s restraint lessens. Jesus denounced criminality yet corrected sinners with grace, desiring repentance and restoration.
In Romans 13:1-4, Paul summarizes lawbreakers and the authorities who govern them. First, he sets the boundaries by commanding all people to obey existing authorities because God grants them their positions. To resist them opposes what God Himself has put into place.
Next, Paul logically states that there is nothing to fear for those who don’t break the law. When bad conduct deserves it, correction or judgment follows. Ultimately, God avenges wrong through His servants in power.
Paul assures us again in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 that the law intends good. Corrective discipline of murderers, sexually immoral, practicing homosexuals, rebels, liars, and other lawbreakers, keeps a society orderly. Regulations for criminals deter infractions and change behaviors. Paul contrasts sinful actions with sound doctrine, conformation to the gospel, and God’s glory. What the Bible says about correction for criminals seeks godliness and spiritual reformation to replace wrongful deeds.
What Does the Bible Say about Correction for Unhealthy Christians?
Spiritually unhealthy Christians can cause problems between believers and within the church. How should correction between believers be administered?
When asked about a brother who wrongs another, Jesus outlined specific actions to take: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-18 ESV)
However, Jesus also warned about hypocrisy in correction. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 ESV)
Confrontation became important for corporate and individual spiritual growth as the gospel spread and new churches grew in the New Testament. The authors of the New Testament Scriptures laid responsibility for correction largely within the body of Christ.
From Galatians 6:1, we learn that correction of fellow Christians should come with a spirit of gentleness and restoration alongside a warning not to fall into the same temptation we condemn.
The author of Hebrews encourages brothers to exhort one another daily. “Exhort” comes from the Greek word “parakaleo,” meaning to come alongside. Various English translations use the words “encourage,” “warn,” or “admonish.” Coming alongside one another fosters a pattern of mutual accountability. Such constant care within the church protects believers from spiritual waywardness and assumes a posture of humility (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Greater severity awaits those characterized by unrepentant sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, abuse, drunkenness, or swindling. 1 Corinthians 5:11 forbids associating with those involved in such sins and even eating together. Blatant immorality, condemned outside the church, had been allowed into the Corinthian church. Paul condemned it. He pronounced those involved should be removed from the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).
In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Paul forbids having anything to do with those disobedient against God’s Word. However, he warns his readers not to treat them as enemies but as fellow Christians.
Idleness needed admonishment (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Again, Paul repeated that encouragement, help, and patience are necessary when addressing issues with fellow Christians.
What Does the Bible Say about Correction for Church Leaders?
Scripture establishes church leadership. Elders, deacons, pastors, and teachers guide the flock of Christ. The same verses applied to members also pertain to church leaders. However, even higher standards and weightier consequences affect church leaders.
Requirements for elders, deacons, teachers, and pastors which qualify them for service also disqualify them from their positions when they don’t meet those standards. What does the Bible say about correction for those in church leadership? Let’s look at some verses which help answer that question.
Titus 1:6-9 tells us an elder oversees the family much as he does the church. His character should display certain qualities in and out of his home. He must be faithful to his wife. His children shouldn’t have the reputation of being wild or disobedient. An elder should not be overbearing or easily angered. He demonstrates discipline and a self-controlled life. He shows hospitality without motivation by dishonest gain.
These high standards set leadership qualifications apart. Church leaders must be characterized by unblemished lives built on sound doctrine, as well as know what the Bible teaches and be able to teach it to others. They must also know how to refute those who oppose truth.
A church leader demonstrates kindness rather than a quarrelsome spirit. He avoids the kind of silly disputes which stir up division. He must endure evil patiently while gently correcting those against him (2 Timothy 2:23-25).
Probably many of us know of church leaders who have not met such high standards. However, 1 Timothy 5:19-20 warns us not to accuse an elder of wrong unless there is proper evidence by two or three witnesses. If the elder continues in his sin, public rebuke is in order. This deters others from the same sin.
Correction for church leadership is difficult but necessary as they shepherd over God’s flock. In fact, the book of James warns only a few should seek such positions (James 3:1) because those who teach receive a greater judgment.
We often look at the Bible through the lens of a corrective manual, but despite the number of verses about correction, God’s Word seeks transformation.
What Does the Bible Say About the Heart of Correction?
As we see from Scripture, correction (regardless of age, station, or position) has an important place in the believer’s life and the church’s life. Yet, perhaps when we ask, “what does the Bible say about correction,” we must also consider another question of fundamental importance. What is at the heart of Biblical correction?
1. God’s kindness. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4 NIV)
2. God’s love. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV)
3. Repentance and restoration. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
4. Instruction and wisdom. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1 ESV)
God corrects because He loves. Humble submission brings growth. Correction instructs us on our path to Christlikeness. It makes us wiser. Like a child who ceases thrashing against a parent’s discipline, our hearts and actions change when we embrace the Father who loves and desires the best for us.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Nataliya Iakubovskaia
Sylvia Schroeder loves connecting God’s Word with real life and writing about it. She is a contributing writer for a variety of magazines and online sites. Sylvia is co-author of a devotional book and her writing is included in several book compilations. Mom to four, grandma to 14, and wife to her one and only love, Sylvia enjoys writing about all of them.
Her love for pasta and all things Italian stems from years of ministry abroad. She’d love to tell you about it over a steaming cup of cappuccino. Connect with Sylvia on her blog, When the House is Quiet, her Facebook page, or Twitter.
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