Here’s a little review from the last episode. Marriage is indeed sacred, and marital happiness is elusive but attainable. Marriage demands persistence, and most of all, marriage is in desperate need of the gospel. Every day is an occasion for hope, another opportunity to catch marital happiness by Spirit-wrought faith, persistence, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and an unstopping pursuit of God’s glory in all of life. We cannot expect our spouse to be the ultimate source of our comfort in life and death for belonging to Jesus alone can occupy that place in our soul. Whatever comfort we have in our spouse is only ever secondary. That was last time.
Today, consider how easy it is to expect our spouse to be an unending supply of comfort and joy. For example, we might think, “If I’m ever going to find comfort and contentment in this life of sorrows,
- My spouse must love me . . .
- My spouse must never leave me or forsake me . . .
- My spouse must satisfy me sexually . . .
- My spouse must repent of that sin . . .
- My spouse must contribute money to our family . . .
- My spouse must regularly affirm me with his or her words . . .
- My spouse must stop doing A, B, or C . . .
- My spouse must spend quality time with me.”
If we make our spouse the source of our comfort and contentment, we will never be satisfied. And yes, God calls husbands and wives to love one another selflessly. The love of our spouse is a cherished gift, but an insufficient one. I know it’s a massive temptation for me to make Kristina my comfort in life. I’m often quicker to go to her than I am to go to Christ. Yet, if my comfort depends on knowing and experiencing Kristina’s love and presence, my comfort will be unstable because Kristina isn’t God. She has many limitations that God doesn’t have, finiteness being one major limitation. God did not provide a spouse to meet your deepest soul needs. He provided you Christ to meet your deepest soul needs and your spouse to help you find comfort in Christ.
I hope you know and experience the love of your spouse and that it provides you temporal comfort. However, to find soul-satisfying comfort in life and death, you must know a few things beyond the love of your spouse. What do you need to know?
Referring back to the comfort stated in the first question, Heidelberg Catechism two asks, “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” And you’ll notice that the answer is not, “First, how great my spouse’s love is for me; second, how I am delivered from life’s troubles by the love of my spouse; third, how I am to be grateful for how my spouse loves me.” That’s not the answer. But if we are honest with ourselves, that’s how we feel sometimes. We expect our spouses to be our comfort, and we get frustrated and angry when they disappoint us. Perhaps our disappointment, anger, or resentment toward our spouse is caused in large part by the idolatrous expectations we place on them. Let’s repent of expecting too much from our spouses.
So, “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of [the comfort Heidelberg one describes]?” The answer is profound and guides you in how to find your deepest comfort in Christ and how to help your spouse find this comfort as well: “First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.” Let’s take each of these one at a time and relate them to your marriage.
First, you must know how immeasurable your sins and misery are. You are a sinner. You will sin against your spouse. Your spouse is a sinner as well, and he or she will sin against you. You will never have a great marriage until you recognize this. Self-righteousness destroys marriages. Additionally, neither of you knows nor comprehends the full extent of your sinfulness. You both have blind spots, and the Holy Spirit isn’t finished exposing them to you. I believe that as the Holy Spirit matures us in our faith, we become more and more aware of our sin which increasingly grieves us. The least mature Christians are the least aware of the lusts of their flesh.
One reason God gave you a spouse is for your spouse to help you realize your sin and need of Christ. Cherish that your spouse helps you see your sin. Cherish hard conversations about your sin. Invite your spouse to help you see your sin more clearly so you can repent more. Ask your spouse to lovingly gaze into your blind spots to help you see what is hard for you to see. The guide should be the Ten Commandments which diagnose our sinful patterns. With gentleness, kindness, and a view to your spouse’s salvation and sanctification, help them to better understand their sinful patterns. It may surprise you how knowing your sin and misery humbles and helps you in marriage.
Second, you must know the gospel or how God delivers you from your sin and misery by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is the “special sauce” of a fulfilling marriage. It is your comfort in marriage and the power to forgive, love one another, and endure. The gospel of a crucified and risen Christ who redeemed you is the power behind true love and sacrifice. Where the depths of Christ’s sacrifice and love are cherished, there is a couple who cherishes Christ and one another.
Think of a marital problem you have. The gospel needs to work, to be understood, and to be more deeply applied at that problem point. Think about how beneficial a marriage is when both husband and wife depend on God’s mercy and grace and help one another better understand and apply the gospel to life and marriage. Forgetting the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and how Christ sees you and your spouse is how and why love fails in marriage. As Paul said, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). So the powerful gospel is the means by which Christ sanctifies you and grows your love for your spouse.
Hopefully, you and your spouse are weekly receiving the gospel together in the Word and sacraments ministry of your church. Without dependence on Christ and his provision of grace in the Word and sacraments, you will not have the strength or even the desire to love your spouse selflessly. You and your spouse need unceasing grace for marriage to thrive.
Third, to have soul-satisfying comfort in life you need to be thankful for God’s mercy and grace in Christ. Thankfulness to God for His grace is expressed by Spirit-wrought, faith-driven, God-glorifying love for Christ and one another. Once again, the Ten Commandments are relevant; they explain to you and your spouse how to love one another. Who loves their spouse most profoundly? I’ll tell you. Christ, but besides him, a husband or wife who is deeply grateful for the extravagant and boundless mercy, grace, and love Christ has for them. Also, a husband or wife who delights in God’s mercy and grace extended to their spouse. Gratitude and worship compel husbands and wives to love their spouses with relentless love.
Are there Biblical justifications for divorce? I think so, however, there are only a few (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15). Many divorces are not for Biblically justifiable reasons. I think it can be said that marriages fail because at least one spouse, many times both spouses, does not know and comprehend these three simple things: their own sin and misery, the glories of God’s mercy and grace toward them in the gospel, and God’s call to thankful and selfless obedience. Divorce and unhealthy marriages exist because of a breakdown in at least one of these essentials to soul-satisfying comfort in life. On the contrary, marriages succeed when the gospel is front and center producing gloriously sweet fruit through faith.
Here’s some homework. Talk about this with your spouse. To be more specific, talk about how you can help one another recognize sin in your life, depending on the gospel and receive grace from God, and better display gratitude for God’s relentless grace in your marriage. I think doing this will help you help your spouse find true comfort in Christ alone.
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.