Your In-Laws Are Not Your Out-Laws

When I was young I remember a popular bumper sticker that said “Mother-In-Law in Trunk.” It caused many people to chuckle because many would prefer to have their mother-in-law in the trunk than in the front or back seat, or likely, out of town altogether. Ask most people you know, even Christians, and they will reveal a strained relationship with their in-laws.

This issue of relationships between Christians and their in-laws has been laying on my heart for a while. Why would Christians live in strained relationships with those most closely related to them? Why are we holding people away and treating them coldly, or holding people so close that they are suffocated? Why are we struggling to get along?

The Bible, God’s diary to us, is not quiet about our interpersonal relationships. Scriptures abound in how we are to treat those of the household of faith, enemies, persecutors, friends and family. In all likelihood, your in-law, whether older or younger, falls into one of these categories.

How do we treat:

Those who are believers:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

Those who act like my enemy:

“To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:20-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-48

Those who persecute me or my family:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

Those who are my friends:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Those who are my family:

“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” Proverbs 17:6

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:2-4

God’s word is NOT silent about our relationships with our in-laws. If your in-laws (older or younger) are believers, than you are called to treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ. If your in-laws are unbelievers, than you are called to love them in such a way as to be “salt and light” in their darkened lives. (Matthew 5:13-16) The issue really comes down to your heart, friend. Are you living like Christ? Are you putting off ungodly behavior (sin) and putting on love as Christ loves you? Are you treating others the way you want to be treated?

1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

Maybe you aren’t winning the battle in your mind for how to treat those who are different than you, do things you don’t like, irritate you or ignore you. (Ephesians 4:22-242 Corinthians 10:4-5Philippians 4:8Colossians 3:2-3) Notice the key to those phrases is YOU. Are you responding to your in-laws because you are more worried about protecting YOU than in loving them? Are you letting your preferences in relationships guide the relationship or are you serving, giving, loving and dying to self? Are you responding to your in-laws (older or younger) in a way that creates an idol of the relationship-your way, your terms, your expectations or it’s the highway for them? Do you walk on eggshells trying to please your in-law and have fallen into fear of man habits, possibly not being honest and truthful?

If you are in a relationship that is suffering, you must examine your own heart and be the one to change. You cannot change your in-law, or anyone for that matter; but you can work on yourself, and you can pray for them.

I know that having an “idol of relationships” has been something my husband has had to walk me through recognizing. I was tossed here and there emotionally every time someone didn’t respond to me in a way I expected or desired. I hyper-analyzed their words and tried to interpret their motives. God warns us about these practices. Philippians 4:8 tells us what to think about others: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We cannot even begin to have an idea about what another is truly thinking and judge their motives properly. We must believe the best unless solid proof shows otherwise. Our “own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) is often wrong about what others are thinking and their motives. Jeremiah 17:9-10 reveals our hearts:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

Love of God and love for others is what must compel us as believers. These are the two greatest of all God’s laws. If we love God (who IS love), we will want to do His will. His will is for us to love others. Sadly, many of us have given in to the world’s ideas about love. We must submit our hearts to God’s definitions of love.

I want to review what love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 from the last to the first. Consider:

“Love never fails. Love endures all things, hopes all things, believes all things, bears all things. Love rejoices with the truth, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, is not resentful or irritable. Love does not insist on its own way, is not rude or arrogant. Love does not boast, it does not envy. Love is kind and patient.”

How are you doing loving your in-laws with this kind of love? How are you doing not pushing for your own way? How are you doing letting them make the plans or doing what’s best for them and not for yourself? I have heard many say, “but they’ll take advantage of me” or “they don’t work into our schedule” or “they’re just so irritating that I don’t like being around them” or “I like my child, but the person they married is just too hard to love.”

Christian! Listen up! Is this Christ’s example as he endured the shame of the cross for those who reviled Him in Philippians 2? Is this 1 Corinthians 13 love: not insisting on its own way or being rude? Is this John 15:13 self-denial: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends?”

I dare to say that we are not acting as regenerate believers when we don’t lose our life so we can find it in Christ. (Mark 8:35)

You must fix your eyes on Christ, daughter-in-law!

You must fix your eyes on an eternal mindset, mother-in-law!

Whomever you are related to is God’s perfect will for you. It is part of His sovereign plan. They are a gift of grace to you from a loving Father! Iron sharpens iron in many Biblical relationships (Proverbs 27:17). In other relationships, it may be that you are being sanctified, put through the hot fire to burn away the dross and sin of your own heart and selfishness. Perhaps you are the one to be the light and to bring the gospel to your in-law. Are you being that light? Are you loving like Christ? Are you dying to self to do this? In Christ alone, you have the power to accomplish this great task. Thank God for the family members He has gifted you with and love as Christ commands you!

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” 1 Peter 1:22-23