For Better or Worse

What Will Marriage Do to You?

No one knew how much trouble their marriage was in. It’s hard to know how much they themselves even knew.

They had seemed so in love, so in sync, so together. They had just joined a new church, with faithful pastors and great teaching, and like hundreds of others, they had promised to follow Christ. Their church was growing quickly, and the members were giving generously, some far beyond their means, to make sure that every need was met.

The couple seemed to fit in with all that God was doing, but despite showing up week after week, their hearts were not really there. The hostility was not between them — they were as united as any couple in the church — but between them and God. They were not in danger of divorce, but even divorce was not as devastating as the course they had chosen, together.

Marriage, for them, had led them subtly, even blissfully, into hypocrisy, one they could not hide anymore. When they sold off a property for the church’s capital campaign, they had decided, even pledged, to give it all to the church. But at the last minute, he wanted to keep some back for themselves. No one would miss a couple thousand, right? She voiced no objection. And so, like a Sunday morning Bonnie and Clyde, they made off with the money. And then lied about what they had done, to their pastors, to those in need, and to God, all while pretending to be generous.

Because of their great sin, death did them part, that very day. Greed, that awful third strand in the cord of their marriage, ruined them, derailed their souls, and left this couple for dead — literally, side by side in the grave.

Our Happiness and Usefulness

The tragic love story is, of course, about Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). And the tragedy is all the more striking because they were married. As much as the apostle Paul says about marriage in his letters, we see very few actual marriages in the New Testament. But Luke goes out of his way to tell us that Ananias and Sapphira acted, in the flesh, as one flesh. Their union in sin should haunt anyone who marries or wants to marry.

George Müller once said, “To enter upon the marriage union is one of the most deeply important events of life. It cannot be too prayerfully treated. Our happiness, our usefulness, our living for God or for ourselves afterwards, are often most intimately connected with our choice” (Answers to Prayer, 88). When Sapphira married Ananias, he significantly, deeply, and daily influenced whether she would seek and obey God — or indulge and serve herself. His sin defiled her, even as she joined him in it. When Ananias married Sapphira, his happiness, his usefulness, his life were spoiled. Instead of helping him be fruitful and multiply for God, she helped her husband take up arms against him.

Both, as far as we can tell, were worse off spiritually for having married. Every marriage will either deepen and intensify our faith, or it will slowly, even imperceptibly, distract and corrupt our hearts. No marriage is neutral when it comes to killing sin and pursuing holiness.

How Sin Spoils a Marriage

So, how does a married couple fall into bed, together, with sin? When the apostle Peter confronts Ananias, he gives us a brief window into the anatomy of their marital iniquity.

Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? (Acts 5:3–4)

And then when Peter confronts Sapphira hours later, he asks, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9). This is how sin ruins a marriage, and how marriage ruins a soul.

His Failure

First, Satan seeds some lie in one of our hearts. Peter addresses the husband, but he acknowledges the enemy in the room. Do you treat your marriage as if someone is always trying to undermine it? Because he is — plotting, threatening, lying, provoking, dividing, sabotaging, tempting.

Ananias, instead of making war against temptation, gives in to it and begins contriving to sin. Peter says to Ananias, “Why is it that you [singular] have contrived this deed in your heart?” (Acts 5:4). The seed of Ananias and Sapphira’s sin may have begun with Satan, but it should have ended with Ananias.

Sin gets a foothold in marriage only because one of us decided to let it in. Someone left the front door unlocked. Maybe it was intentional, making some provision for the flesh (indulging in pornography, hiding financial indiscretions, harboring bitterness or anger). Maybe it was negligent, simply not taking sin seriously enough (staying up late alone, putting off Bible reading and prayer, watching questionable shows or movies). Temptation into a marriage may come through a thousand different doors, but sin enters through one of two hearts: his or hers.

When the allure of a little extra money started feeling appealing, Ananias should have responded to Satan, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When the promise of deception began to seduce him, he should have called to mind truths like Colossians 3:9–10: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” When Satan sought to have him, and through him to have his wife, Ananias should have stood fast, saying, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

But Ananias served himself. And so marriage failed Sapphira, precisely where it should have protected her. God had given her a husband to lead her to God, and instead he drove her to her death.

Her Failure

After Satan seeds some lie in his (or her) heart, he (or she) follows that temptation into sin. So far, however, only one has sinned. The marriage may have yet survived if Sapphira had refused to lie with him — if she had not submitted to his wickedness. If she had the courage and faith to confront and rebuke him, whatever it might cost her.

When she repeated Ananias’s lie (saying they sold the property for less than they did), Peter says to her,

“How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. (Acts 5:9–10)

Sapphira, it seems, died by submission. The same Peter who watched her die wrote elsewhere to women like her, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1) — but not like this, not when your husband leads you into sin. Sapphira was to submit to Ananias “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13) and “as a servant of God” (1 Peter 2:16) — not without qualification, and certainly not when he robbed the church and lied to God.

Sapphira knew what her husband was doing was wrong. She knew what God has said. She knew this was selfish, greedy, and deceitful. But instead of running the other way, she lied and stole with him (Acts 5:1). And so marriage failed Ananias, precisely where it should have awakened and fortified him against sin and temptation.

Sister in Christ, as far as it depends on you, do not lie with a man like him, in life or in death. Be subject to your husbands, even to the ungodly, but never in the ungodly.

Your Worst Possible Marriage

Neither Ananias and Sapphira knew or felt, at least not deeply enough, what was at stake in their marriage. If they had, even thousands of dollars would have seemed like pennies. They certainly would trade the little they made on the property to be freed from what they found, together, in the grave.

If you are already married, beware of what ruined Ananias and Sapphira. Stay awake to Satan and all his lies. Fight temptation together. Confront sin wherever you find it. Fill your oneness with godliness. And if you want to marry, look for a man or woman who will make war against Satan and everything he whispers into a marriage. And look for a spouse who mercifully will make war against any evil remaining in you. The worst possible marriage for you would be one that encourages you to persist in sin against God.

Satan is more real and murderous than we often recognize. Sin is more seductive and devastating than we often assume. And marriage influences our happiness, our usefulness, and our souls, for good or ill, far more than we often expect.