I am having a great week here in Arizona with my three loves. We are baking, taking walks, playing games, telling stories, talking and loving each other. They are so darn cute. When I was cooking a turkey breast for Christmas dinner, I opened the oven and my middle granddaughter, Leilani, said “What are you cooking Nana?” I said, “turkey.” She said, “I didn’t know that turkeys came from chickens.” I cracked up laughing. I love how kids put things together in their own way. She loves to eat turkey breast for lunchmeat, but since she’s only seen her mother cook chickens, it was a natural connection.
On another note, my 86-year-old father had some back/neck surgery a few days before Christmas and his recovery has been much harder than we all anticipated. I will be flying into Chicago for a week to help out with things there. Please pray for him if you think of him to regain his strength and gain relief from pain.
Question: When you talk about the idea of implementing consequences with someone who is destructive, I feel confused. Doesn’t God’s word encourage us to forgive and be merciful and gracious? Implementing consequences, especially with another adult feels to me like you are still punishing someone even though you forgave him or her. Please clarify this confusing issue for me.
Answer: I think your confusion is common and I’ve struggled with understanding this concept myself. There is a distinction between punishment and consequences although they may overlap a bit and to the one on the receiving end, they may feel like they are the same thing.
First, let me confirm that God is a God of mercy and I believe that mercy expresses itself in compassion. Because of God’s great compassion, love, and mercy, he does not give us what we deserve. Because of our sin and disobedience, we deserve his wrath. But instead, he offers us forgiveness, through the blood of Christ. When Jesus died, God poured out his wrath on Christ and therefore there is no condemnation or punishment for our sin when we are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1).
However the natural consequence of our refusal to accept God’s free gift is that we don’t get to enjoy the gift of forgiveness or a personal relationship with God. Christmas was just a few days ago. Imagine you offered to give someone you knew an extravagant gift he or she didn’t deserve. Perhaps you offered to pay off their mortgage, buy them a much needed new car, or pay off all their school loans. But due to pride, or shame, they refused your gift. The consequences (not punishment) would be that they would not have the new car, or the house or school loans paid off. This is not a punishment, merely a consequence of his or her own choice.
Consequences are a result of our own choices and behaviors. The Bible puts it this way, “What ever a man sows, he reaps” (Galatians 6:7). This biblical farming metaphor enabled people to understand a simple truth. If you plant turnips, you reap turnips. Turnips were a natural result (consequence) of what you planted. Another way of putting it is this: if you plant turnips, don’t expect to see tulips.
Consequences don’t have to be negative. For example, if I pay my bills on time, the consequence is that I build a good credit rating. If I watch what I eat and exercise, the consequences will be a relatively stable weight and a healthy body. On the other hand, if I don’t pay my bills on time, the consequences will be a negative credit rating, repossession of things I own, bankruptcy, or other financial problems. If I regularly overeat and never exercise, the consequences will be weight gain and loss of muscle mass. These are not punishments; they are the results of my own choices.
Second, God has given human beings an incredible gift and that is our choices. We get to choose how we will steward our one precious life, whether we will take good care of our body, our money, our relationships, our time, and the gifts and talents he gives us. When we make good choices, the consequences are generally (not always) positive. When we make poor choices, the consequences are generally (not always) negative. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about these concepts and how to gain wisdom so that the choices we make lead to better consequences.
However, we do see in Scripture and in life that there are times when God is so gracious and merciful that he doesn’t make us suffer the natural consequence of a foolish or sinful choice. The story of Jean Valjean, in Les Miserables, powerfully illustrates this idea.
In the play, Jean Valjean is apprehended by the police because he has in his possession valuable silver candlesticks that don’t look like they belong to him. He tells them that they were a gift from the Bishop, but the police does not believe him, as he has a record as a thief. The police drag Jean Valjean back to the Bishop to prove he lied.
The Bishop says, Monsieur, release him. This man has spoken true. I commend you for your duty, now God’s blessing go with you.
Bishop says to Valjean: But remember this, my brother, see in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness; I have bought your soul for God!
In this situation, the Bishop did not make Jean Valjean suffer the natural consequences of his thievery. He pardoned him and forgave him but he left him with a charge. He said this extravagant gift must be used to shape him into an honest, a better man. And if you’ve seen the film or the play, that’s exactly what happened.
But what happens when extravagant grace does not yield positive changes? What happens when the thief goes on to steal more and more and more? That’s when consequences become the most merciful path to wake someone up to their destructive ways.
The apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4). When we are extravagantly merciful to someone who does not deserve our kindness, it is meant to wake that person up to change his or her ways. And when that happens it is a beautiful thing all around. However, when that does not happen, it often empowers and emboldens the sinner to sin in even greater ways. Paul goes on to talk about that in the rest of Romans 2.
So the answer is yes there are times for extravagant mercy, where we step in and do not put into place the natural consequences due the sinner and instead sacrificially forgive and bear the weight of the consequences (as the Bishop did when he lost the valuable candlesticks).
And, there is a point when the person has not changed or repented from repeated sinful behaviors and therefore it’s time to allow the natural consequences of his or her choices to bear down on his life so hopefully the person will repent and change his or her destructive ways.
We see examples from both the Old and New Testaments of this concept. For example:
1 Corinthians 5:9 -“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindles, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to each with such a one…..Purge the evil person from among you.” (Consequences – loss of relationship/fellowship).
Ephesians 5:11 – “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Consequences – will not hide or pretend or cover up sin).
Romans 16:13 – Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Paul isn’t saying here – let’s just forgive and forget every problem but there are consequences for repeatedly sinful behavior).
1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” (Consequences: You will be corrupted by the company you keep).
2 Thessalonians 2:3 – “Don’t let anyone deceive you.”(Consequences – stay wary of people who repeatedly lie).
2 Peter 3:16 – “…There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” (Consequences – when people are good at twisting words, especially Scriptures, be careful around them because you will lose your own stability – crazy-making).
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self- control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (Consequences – loss of relationship with certain kinds of people who repeatedly sin in these ways).
2 Thessalonians 3:6 – “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (Consequences – loss of relationship).
Titus 3:10 – “As for the person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Consequences – loss of relationship).
Paul in warning young Timothy said, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.” 2 Timothy 4:14,15 (Consequences – loss of trust).
Here are some OT verses that support the same and since the all Scripture is the whole counsel or God I think it is important that we listen to what they say also.
In Numbers 14 – read the chapter up to this point but Moses pleaded with God, “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just has you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.
The Lord Replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times – not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Consequences – you do not get to see the Promised Land).
Proverbs 19:19 – “A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. (Consequences: If you keep enabling someone to sin against you, they will keep hurting you so stop doing it).
Consequences are the best teacher for a person who has not listened to words. (Click to Tweet)
Proverbs 29:1 – “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” (Consequences: When you refuse to listen to words, your life starts careening out of control).
Jeremiah 4:18 – “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is. How it pierces to the heart.”
Jeremiah 9:4 – “Let everyone beware of his neighbor and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord.” (Consequences: Loss of trust, broken relationships, loss of fellowship).
Jeremiah 12:6 – “For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them; though they speak friendly words to you.” (Consequences: Loss of trust, inability to know whether or not they speak truth).
Therefore, we see from Scripture that the consequences of being in the presence of a repeatedly destructive person may be that you don’t trust him, you don’t want to be around him, you don’t want to be intimate with him, you can’t fellowship with him, you don’t believe what he says, and sadly that you may become like him.
Understanding God’s law of consequences is not being uncharitable or unchristian. Rather it is being realistic, honest, and merciful, in the hopes that painful consequences will eventually bring the destructive person to his or her senses. Sadly, many destructive people continue believing they are victims of other people’s unkindness rather than recognizing that they suffer negative outcomes because they have repeatedly made bad choices.
Friend, how do you determine when to put consequences into place in your relationships with others who have been destructive towards you?