A Marriage Made in Heidelberg (1): True Comfort in Marriage

This new series on marriage is aimed mostly at married couples who would like to strengthen their marriage. That said, if you’re engaged or dating, there’s a lot here for you as well. Maybe your marriage is in trouble. Maybe it’s stale. Maybe it’s going well. Whatever the case, why don’t you join me in this podcast journey? I think you’ll learn something that applies to your marriage or situation. Who do you know that could benefit from short encouragements on marriage? Share this podcast with them. It may make a lasting difference in their marriage and life. So, please share this series with couples you know, and let’s see how God uses it.

Marriage is sacred. It’s meant to illustrate Christ’s beautiful loving relationship with his church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage demands reverence, admiration, and care. Marriage is for believers and unbelievers alike, however, for marriage to find its fulfillment, it must be stewarded for God’s glory. A hammer can be easily owned, but it is stewarded well when it builds a sturdy and beautiful house. Marriage is sacred and meant for God’s glory, yet so often it is used for man’s glory instead of God’s glory.

I like to fly fish for steelhead trout. Steelhead are elusive. They love to ignore your fly. You can fish for years and not catch a steelhead. I understand why people don’t fly fish. However, only the people who keep tossing the line know the rewards of persistence.

Kristina gave me a framed piece of art that creatively says, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” [1] Marriage is like fly fishing. It takes relentless persistence to reach the elusive reward. The elusiveness of marital happiness causes many to preemptively give up. They stop believing marital happiness is attainable. They lose hope. However, in reality, and contrary to how it sometimes feels, marriage is a pursuit of what is attainable. Happiness in marriage is attainable, but it is elusive. It demands persistence. Every day is an occasion for hope, another opportunity to catch what eludes so many people. And the way you catch marital happiness is through Spirit-wrought faith, persistence, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and an unstopping pursuit of God’s glory in all of life. In other words, marital happiness is attained by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way.

Okay, in marriage, husband and wife are pursuing together what is elusive—a fulfilling and happy marriage that glorifies God. In order to attain the elusive, you need to believe the gospel. The gospel must shape your expectations in marriage. I’ll explain.

People get married because they believe that being married to their love is preferable to remaining single. They expect marriage to improve their life. Otherwise, why are they getting married? “Darling, you will lower the quality of my life. Will you marry me?” By all means, don’t get married if that’s how you think! People get married because they assume marriage will enrich their lives. And people get married to find comfort in marriage.

People get married to find comfort in companionship, love, sexual intimacy, mutual encouragement, emotional support, economic security, shared experiences, raising a family together, etc. These are all wonderful things that one should pursue in marriage. However, these graces can quickly become idols. They can easily become the primary means by which husband and wife pursue comfort. What I mean is, couples begin to believe that their comfort in life is dependent upon the companionship, love, sex, encouragement, support, etc. of their spouse. They begin to believe that their spouse is the source of their comfort. I don’t mean to say that spouses are not a source of comfort. They should be in one sense. What I mean is that to expect your spouse to be the source, as in the ultimate source, of your comfort in life is idolatry. No spouse can sufficiently comfort the soul.

Heidelberg 1 asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” That’s a great question every married couple should consider together. The answer must not be, “My spouse.” A spouse can be a wonderful source of comfort, encouragement, and joy. However, a husband or a wife is only ever a secondary comfort. Something else must be our utmost comfort in life and death. Heidelberg 1 answers:

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.    

Your body and soul belong to Jesus Christ. Believing that truth can change your marriage. See, Jesus Christ your faithful Savior and Lord dictates how you give your body and soul to your spouse. If you give yourself to your spouse on your terms or even on their terms, the elusive will elude you. Before you belong to your spouse, you belong to Christ. Your comfort in life and death is knowing the comfort of his love. If your comfort in life and death depends on your spouse’s love, presence, encouragement, support, etc., you will be perpetually frustrated, angry, discontent, insecure, fearful, anxious, and miserable because your spouse cannot possibly deliver what you need most. And your expectations of your spouse will burden your spouse. You will end up resenting your husband because you made a god of him, and he didn’t deliver the elusive happiness you expected from him.

Did your wife shed her blood for the forgiveness of your sins? No. And even if she tried, her blood would be insufficient for your salvation. Can your spouse rescue you from the power of the devil? No. When did getting married deliver a man from his lust or a woman from her insecurity issues? Never. Christ alone is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins and freedom from Satan’s tyranny. This is why Christ alone is our comfort in life and death.

I love Kristina deeply. She has enriched my life in countless ways. However, Kristina isn’t sovereign. I don’t talk about Kristina’s providence because she isn’t upholding me with the word of her power; Christ is. Kristina’s not preserving my life; Christ is. To hope in Kristina to sustain or preserve me is hopeless. Looking to Kristina for comfort in this definitive way would destabilize my comfort in life and death. Kristina stands by me in the ups and downs of life, and what a comfort she is, but Kristina cannot possibly work all things for my good. She falls short of that sovereign power.

Lastly, our spouse cannot motivate us to godliness. Think about that. Your husband cannot motivate you to do what is right. Your wife cannot make you pursue righteousness. They can encourage you, but they cannot move or change your heart. Your comfort in life and death is believing that Christ alone can move and orient your heart toward righteousness by his grace and Holy Spirit. Not only does the Holy Spirit of Christ assure you of your salvation, He also graciously and powerfully moves and orients your heart to obedience to God through the gospel.

It’s true that we ought to live to love and serve our spouse (and others). But in order to do that, we must first receive the grace of Christ in the gospel through faith. This is your only possible hope of living to love and serve your spouse. When you receive Christ’s grace and Spirit through dependence on Christ, he will inevitably empower you to love and serve your spouse. May the Lord graciously help you find your utmost comfort in Christ, for Christ alone is sufficient comfort for life and death.

[1] John Buchan.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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