As you'll learn in just a moment, spiritual gifts can make all the difference in whether your marriage has conflict, or whether you complement each other.
Have you ever experienced your spouse or spouse-to-be repeatedly doing something which just irritates you?
You just chalk it up as one of those irreconcilable difference while wishOng the other person were more like you?
Perhaps you don't really have many conflicts, but you're sensing that the two of you are not fully operating in unison as a couple.
Maybe you're wondering whether the two of you, together, could be doing something more fulfilling and impactful for each other, your family, and for the Kingdom.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Many couples, although married and playing the typical roles and responsibilities as husband and wife, aren't actually as truly unified as they could be.
Same Team, but No Teamwork
Haven't you seen a sports team flail on the playing field?
All of the players are wearing the same jerseys, have the same coach, and running the same general direction. But nothing seems to come together during the games?
On the other hand, have you also seen a team that has great teamwork, where each person plays their position to their strengths, and almost everyone seems to know what their teammates are thinking?
The contrast is striking and memorable.
In the same ways, some married couples live under the same roof, yet aren't playing the field with their combined strengths and gifts. They are on the same team, but have no real teamwork.
Appreciating and complementing each other’s spiritual gifts can knit together your marriage in ways that surpass what you can do on your own, separate strengths.
Your Marriage is a Unified Subset of a Unified Body
Let's look at what Ephesians says about a body “joined and knit together”:
that we....speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 - emphasis added and part of Eph 4:14 -- "should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, " removed for clarity)
Ephesians continues later, in the next book:
No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body. As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. (Ephesians 5:29-31)
Although Ephesians 5 specifically refers to the unity of a man with his wife, Ephesians 4 also talks about the unity of the greater body. In Ephesians 4, one of the ways the body is "knit together" is through an exercise of the spiritual gifts. It's how "every part does its share."
If the growth, maturity, and unity of the body at large is through spiritual gifts, does it not make sense spiritual gifts also play a role in the unity between a man and a wife?
In other words, spiritual gifts not only apply to, but also deepen the meaning the nature of, marriage.
1 Corinthians 12 also talks about the value and role of spiritual gifts. To illustrate the role, it talks about how one part of the body cannot do without the other:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (1 Corinthians 12:21-22 - emphasis added)
The verse specifically calls out how to treat the "weaker" parts -- to treat as indispensable. This gives clarity and color to another verse found in 1 Peter related to the relationship between husband and wife:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 - emphasis added)
While 1 Peter 3:7 is often seen as a knock against women as "weaker," when placed in light of the essential role spiritual gifts play in the unity of the body, the wife is seen as indispensable.
Spiritual gifts arguably augment the power and unity of marriages. After all, what is good for the body at large is certainly good for a subset of that same body, a married couple.
How to apply your gifts in marriage
The process of discovering your spiritual gifts is not the scope of this post. Once you do have an understanding of them, however, here are five things you can do in your relationship.
Ask each other the following questions:
1. What do you appreciate about the other person’s gifts?
It actually starts with being able to identify and appreciate the gifts of the other person.
Most of the times, people operate their spiritual gifts in a silo. But their value comes when they are seen and valued.
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:
“If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.” (1 Corinthians 12:17-18 NLT)
Much of the time, people evaluate their spouses from the lens of their own gifts. Doing so is the same as being an eye and wanting the entire body as an eye.
It’s only by appreciating how “God has put each part” — in this case, your spouse — “just where he wants it” that gifts in a marriage can thrive.
2. Clarify how you’re serving each other through gifts
The purpose of gifts is through serving others. But what is service to one person could be overlooked or, worse, be an offense to the other if you don't know what to look for.
For example, the gift of an Apostle might be to lead into new territories, try new things, push the bounds of the relationship to build God's Kingdom.
But...someone with a strong gift of the Shepherd that expresses itself is comforts and consistency might not see this way of leading a marriage in a positive light. It could lead to conflicts!
So having a conversation around the ways you imagine serving each other could help head off some of these potential conflicts at the pass!
3. Reflect on your own ways of sinning...and confess to each other
This doesn't mean to tell the other person how they are sinning against you....it means to share how you could imagine your gifts turn into sin.
I spend quite a bit of this in my course because it's so often overlooked, but is a valuable foundation to understanding yourself better. Your gifts don't only express themselves through your Spirit-led capabilities.
They express themselves in your sinfulness, too. It only stands to reason that, in our imperfection and sinful nature, even the good parts sometime come out badly.
This will certainly differ from person to person, but there are common attributes shared by those with the same gifts.
4. Explore how you can complement each other
By "complement" I don't mean "compliment" -- which is to say something nice about the other person (although that isn't so bad, either! Might as well go for it).
I mean how do you "complete each other"? This can be the most exciting part, and one which many couples don't explore. In other words, how do you actually need each other in order to, as a single unit, do important things together?
It could be parenting, building your marriage, starting a business, serving church....find the way you complement each other.
Simple example: when my wife and I lead pre-marital counseling, my gift in Teaching kicks in, while hers for the hospitality-thread of Shepherding, come together. She makes the place comfy, which I couldn't do or I forget to do. But I go through the verse.
It's a small example, but it's one we called out as a way to understand there will be some things I lean into which are different from the things she leans into. And we try to get creative now on how to expand the ministry leveraging these gifts.
5. Lean into the gifts of your spouse to grow in your relationship with Christ
As I teach in my course, the most important foundation to building the spiritual gifts is to build your relationship with Christ in all five. Christ is the perfect example of all five gifts of Ephesians --- yet many of us don't know Him in all those ways.
So my wife should lean into me to seek Christ as a teacher and how He imparts God's truth to mature her. And I should lead more into the way Christ gives us hospitality and a home.
Anyway, there's so much fruit in having that discussion, but even scratching the surface with a conversation can make a difference.
What do you think?
Have you had these types of conversations with your significant other?
What do you think the role of spiritual gifts plays in a marriage?
In what ways do you see this being helpful?
In what ways do you think it doesn't apply?