Chrysostom on Pastoral Discernment – When speaking to a congregation, it is necessary both to confirm the grace of God in their lives as well as call them to task on seeking and maintaining proper doctrine and godly direction. Every preacher knows the delicate balance necessary of affirming the body of Christ, as well as correcting and providing the proper amount of chastisement. To over indulge in language regarding God’s grace could lead to antinomianism, while constant reprimand can deflate and circumvent the nature of the gospel. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, works with this delicate thread to weave a tapestry of encouragement in the gospel life while chiding his audience for being seduced by error. John Chysostom, the fourth century preacher and teacher, comments on this thread and provides some helpful thoughts on the task of the minister to seek discernment in their communication.
Based on the example of Christ in the gospels, Paul likewise varied his speech to fit the occasion of the audience. Chysostom observes, “Thus taught, and walking in the steps of his Master, Paul hath varied his discourse according to the need of his disciples, at one time using knife and cautery, at another, applying mild remedies.” (Commentary on Galatians [NPNF 13], 1). Pastoral obligation includes the need for discernment in speaking to one’s congregation or disciple. We all need encouragement just as much as we need various moments of chastisement. In Paul’s opening words to the Galatians, he reminds them of his calling and extends the grace and peace necessary to temper his various warnings and rebukes. The gospel is not forgotten in reproving; it is maintained and highlighted. Without starting point to refer back to, such censure is meaningless. The starting point is the grace and peace offered to man in Christ Jesus. Chrysostom highlights this reality.
In rebuffing a people, a pastor must seek discernment in speech. Love and grace comes before any necessary chastisement to follow. Temperance in speech reminds the people of God both of the gospel of Christ and the necessary task to maintain the rich truth of the gospel message. May pastors seek such discernment when communicating the gospel message to their people.