This morning, modern man sadly believes himself "enlightened" and "civilly advanced." Many social and government programs in existence today were unheard of 50 or 100 years ago, and most of them were instituted in the name of advancement of civilization. Foolishly, man believes himself capable of creating functions that will fix problems as old as time, while he consistently ignores the source of true wisdom in this world. Most of the time, the world's "best and brightest" scoff at the instruction of the Bible. Believing the book outdated and antiquated, they perceive their own conceptions to be wiser than God's Book. Yet, when one contemplates just the simple moral and civil statements of the Bible, social problems in this country and around the world could diminish rapidly. Civil authority cannot change man's nature by its decisions, but the decisions of civil government can inhibit or release man's nature based on consequences. Man will never do the right thing for the right reason unless quickened by God's Spirit, but man can choose to forgo evil actions should the civil or natural consequences be great enough.
In our study verse, Solomon gives wise counsel that applies to many different areas of life. The most obvious application of the verse is the realm of civil punishment, but the concept can be applied generally to many things, and we hope in the writing to examine the application of this thought to societies, homes, and even churches. When considering what the Bible has to say about punishment in general, it is easily concluded that the concept of judgment and consequence for behaviour is abundantly taught. However, punishment from associated judgment is not to be conducted according to the whims of man but according to the guidelines set forth by the Almighty. Therefore, let us examine those guidelines as inspired by Him.
Socially speaking, God intends and expects that the structure of civil government conform to the moral code He has stipulated. As God interacted with Israel's government of olden times, He showed forth blessing for keeping moral codes and directed punishment for breaking it. Moving into the New Testament times, He instructs His children to obey civil magistrates and higher powers, for they have been put there for the benefit and direction of man. (Romans 13) Failure to see the "authoritative structure" in society is simply a failure to see God's plainly written word. Yet, those strutures should function honorably. Part of honorable function is seen in our verse. Punishment of transgressors should be done speedily and without undue delay. What would the benefit of this be?
God understands the mind of man better than we do, and He understands that judgment delayed encourages and breeds more misconduct. If I thought that my punishment might be put off for years or even indefinitely, I might be emboldened to transgress knowing that the punishment would be put off or even perhaps might be not at all. In a society where criminals are given undue leeway, other criminals become less concerned with keeping the precepts stipulated by that society. A correlated thought here is the sense that when governemnt or civil authority executes judgment, it must be speedy but also consistent. In the same vein that criminals are emboldened to commit trespasses due to prolonged sentence, they are also emboldened to transgress if they see inconsistent judgment being issued. If only three of every five criminals are punished, then the inconsistency of the judgment structure makes latent criminals more likely instead of less likely to stoop to criminal activity.
Moving into the familial realm, only a blinded reading of the Bible would fail to see the clear injunction of Scripture for parents to discipline and punish children for misbehaviour. God clearly stated that children should be spanked (Proverbs 13 and 22) when they disobey, and no modern "enlightenment" of man nullifies this commandment. Today, man likes to promote concepts such as rehabilitation and counseling when children misbehave. Programs are even in place for parents and children to sit down together and "get to know each other and understand the problems." God's ways are simplest, and a quick spanking for wrongdoing will right the ship of problems faster than any program of man.
In keeping with the thoughts of civil government, parents also should not delay in execution of the punishment for that emboldens the child to transgress further and further. But even on top of that, parents have to be consistent in what they do for the same reasons as mentioned above. If a child perceives the "chance" that a transgression will go unpunished due to the parent's inconsistent execution, then they become more emboldened to push the envelope. Both a delay of punishment and inconsistent punishment equates simply to the fact that the parent lies to the child. They promise punishment over and over, but they fail to deliver. Sometimes I become both amused and sad at the same time when I observe parents delay punishment and also show great inconsistency with it. After hearing them say for the twentieth time, "You're going to get it. I've had it." I think, "If I were your child, I wouldn't change either."
Moving to the realm of church activity, both Scripture and even personal history shows that delayed punishment of clear wrongdoing breeds confusion and tension within the halls of Zion. Paul told Timothy to rebuke people in the church for the cause that others may fear. (I Timothy 5:20) If a clear violation is being tolerated within the church and the much needed rebuke is slow to come or never comes, someone else may not see the sense to refrain from doing the same thing. On the other hand, if the rebuke comes quickly and correctly, others perk up to possibly be spared from falling into the same trap.
When I was growing up in the church, I observed perhaps 10-15 such cases where my natural father had to go through the painful process of rebuking erring church members that had committed a public offense and reproach upon the church. In most of the cases, the members were penitent and begged forgiveness from the church – which the church always freely gave. Yet, those moments when people like me in the congregation saw such things, I repeatedly had the thought, "I don't want to be there and have to do that." My mind feared – as it should – and did not want to suffer the same. Yet, if delayed punishment for open transgression occurs or if the church is inconsistent with her judgment, confusion and multiplied problems come forth.
While subjects such as these are certainly not pleasant points to consider, we need to remember that the Bible lays out plain and clear instruction on these points for our benefit. Whether the realm is our children, society at large, or even our churches, we need to remember the old adage that, "An ounce of sweat spent now can save a pound of blood later." No one wants to do these things. Godly parents do not delight in spanking their children any more than a righeous judge likes handing out harsh sentences or churches disciplining members. Yet, who knows what consistent and timely punishment now saves later? When parents balk at spanking their children today, my mom likes to say, "Would you rather have to deal with that 5-6 year old now, or wait until they are 15-16 coming at you in rebellion?" In society, would we rather deal with a few criminal cases now or countless multitudes later? In churches, would we rather rebuke one or two now or have a large portion of the congregation in tense rebellion later? The Bible is no more out of date now than when God breathed it to be written. May we take its clear commands over any "wisdom" from man's imagination.