Ministry gifts, Marriage and Family
Recently I’ve been reading a book by a Catholic writer, Stephen Clark, entitled Charismatic Spirituality. He has many rich, evangelical insights. But what in the world does “charismatic spirituality” have to do with “marriage and family” issues? I’ll keep you guessing on that one for a moment.
In fact, as you read through the following quote, you might already have an idea of where my thoughts are heading! (Note: Clark prefers to use “ministry gifts” instead of “spiritual gifts”. I was delighted to discover someone else who shared my own viewpoint on this very issue.)
“Most commonly we think of ministry gifts as operating in the context of meetings (conferences, prayer meetings, church services) or in the context of church or community activities. That was not, however, the view in the New Testament. New Testament writers did not think in terms of a modern religious organization or of modern churches—which largely function as religious organizations—but of a Christian community, a body of people who interacted together outside of corporate events and shared a common way of life. That probably means that they saw the various ministry gifts, most of them at least, as operating in the course of daily life.”
This is a conviction I’ve long held in contrast to what appears to be the typical thinking and practice, namely, that the primary place for the functioning of “spiritual gifts” is in Christian meetings.
When I reflected further on Clark’s insights, I became excited as I contemplated the significance of what he is saying in the life of believing families. Isn’t one of the implications of Clark’s observations that in the daily cut and thrust of Christian marriage and family life is the starting point for God’s people to be exercising their “ministry gifts”? If God has given to you ministry gifts, and for sure He has, then the very first place where you should be thinking of exercising those gifts is in your home. I hope you’re able to share my excitement in this matter, because this truth can powerfully impact how we think about “ministry” and in particular, how we think about the practice of our “ministry gifts”.
Allow me to suggest a couple of examples in the hope that you will let the Spirit take you further along this same path in your understanding this truth. Let’s say, for example, that God has gifted you with the gift of wisdom. If you’re like me, you probably feel rather hesitant to share some insight or “wisdom” that the Spirit is laying upon your heart, possibly for the benefit of your husband or wife, or one of your children.
What makes the exercise of this gift more difficult is the possibility that this “wisdom” may not be welcomed by your spouse or your child. They may even react with words like: “I don’t agree with that.” Or, “you’re always trying to sound so spiritual.” Such responses are hurtful and can easily de-motivate us in our willingness to speak words of godly wisdom to our family members. We might even justify our holding back with such Scriptures as “throwing pearls to swine!”
Worse still for us is when we reach the conclusion that this “wisdom” isn’t really from God but just a mere human thought. Of course, all of us have much to learn about exercising our ministry gifts with humility and grace, but having said that, we also must remember that we are responsible before God for obeying the promptings of His Spirit. We are not responsible for the failure of others, including those in our family circle, to respond to God’s ministry through us to them.
God’s Word encourages us not to become easily discouraged by negative reactions from others including our family members when we exercise God-given “ministry gifts” in the context of marriage and family life. It also teaches us not to think either “too highly” (Rom.12:3) or “too lowly” of these ministry gifts and their significance in building up fellow-believers with whom we live and share the intimacies of everyday life.
There are many other “ministry gifts” that we can use within the home for the blessing of others. Here is one list of these ministry gifts from the pen of the apostle Paul. Read these verses now with marriage and family life in mind. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Rom.12:6-8)
I can’t help but ponder the question (I wonder why?!) how God’s people who share daily life with an unbelieving marriage partner or with family members who remains hardened to the Good News. Is there anything in Scripture that would suggest that the believer should limit his or her use of “ministry gifts” to believing family members? I think it’s more a matter that we believers can’t help but function with our “gifts” regardless of the context. For example, can an “encourager” keep himself or herself from encouraging people in the context of everyday family life? Hardly!
Of course, certain ministry gifts will have a greater spiritual impact upon unbelievers. For example, the gift of healing. Experiencing the power of God to heal a family member has often been used by God as the means to unlock a person’s heart to the Good News.
How can an unbeliever be expected to recognise the origin of a “ministry gift”? But this should not prevent us from reaching out in ministry to those around us. Take again the example of “the gift of faith”. What an amazing blessing for any marriage and household when the believing husband or wife is allowing God to work through his or her “faith” in daily life. Using this gift may happen in relation to the simplest issues of life, such as a discouraged husband because of some financial stress. Or a child who needs a strong boost of divine faith to get out of a rut of negative thinking.
Let me just tease you with this further thought. If your children are also believers, doesn’t this also imply that God has also given them “ministry gifts” for the blessing of the entire family, including ourselves? What an awesome thought! This is a picture of giving and receiving spiritual blessings across generational and age lines.
I’m sure you would like to ask some questions or suggest other applications of this same truth. I pray that the above comments has helped you to grasp hold of this very rich truth: God has made you as you are, and given you “ministry gifts” which He intends you to function in everyday life, beginning in your marriage and home context. And He has also placed others around you in the home so that they may help you mature in your faith and bless you out of your socks.
Graham M. Roberts
June 11, 2008