The Labor of Preaching


John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407) was arguably the greatest preacher amongst the Post-Nicene Church Fathers. His tireless reforms in church worship (liturgy) and his focus on areas of social need won him the praise of the common people and the ire of many elites in his day. In this passage, Chrysostom explained the burden of being a pastor by outlining a phenomenon every true preacher will understand. He articulated the terrible feeling that comes when people ignore or fail to put into practice the word of God. Conversely, he describes the unrivaled joy and energy that comes when a congregation hears and responds to biblical proclamation.

Preaching really entails hard work, and this fact Paul made plain when he said: ‘Let the presbyters who rule well be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.’ But you are responsible for making this toil light or heavy. If you despise my words or, though you do not despise them, do not embody them in your deeds, my toil will be heavy, because I am laboring fruitlessly and in vain.

But if you pay attention and make my words manifest in your deeds, I shall not even be aware of the perspiration, for the fruit produced by my work will not permit me to feel the laboriousness of the toil. And so, if you wish to spur on my zeal and not to extinguish it or make it weaker, show me the fruit of it, I beseech you, in order that, viewing the leafy crops, sustained by hopes of a rich harvest and calculating my wealth, I may not be sluggish in engaging in this promising task.1


1 Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 22 (John 2:4-10),” in Saint John Chrysostom: Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, Homilies 1-47, vol. 33, The Fathers of the Church, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1957), 212.

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