Dealing with In-Law Advice

Are your spouse’s parents annoying? Meddlesome? Quick to point out your flaws? Or are they really great, but non-Christians? The mentioning of in-laws can bring a swath of emotions to someone. And when they’re strong emotions, they’re usually negative. Some people have good relationships with their in-laws, some don’t. Either way, when you find yourself interacting with them, it’s good to be prepared for their advice. What does the Bible say about this?

Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. – Exodus 18:7

A great example in the Bible involving in-laws is Moses and Jethro. Their interaction is a positive way to engage with advice, or what we might incorrectly call meddling.

Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. – Exodus 18:1

Jethro hears about the success of Moses after the Israelites leave Egypt, and most likely believes everything is safe to come out, because earlier Moses left his family with him.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.” – Exodus 18:5-6

They meet and the result is a testament to being a good example for in-laws who may not believe in God:

Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” – Exodus 18:9-11

Before we talk about dealing with advice, know that following God’s plan can lead to your relatives’ salvation:

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God. – Exodus 18:12

Now let’s get into the criticism, the drama, the meddling.

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. – Exodus 18:13

Moses is working, doing the job God called him to do. Everything is back to normal, but then his in-law notices something and intervenes:

When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” – Exodus 18:13

Moses seems to go on the defensive, and misses the point. Has your in-law ever criticized your work? Your life? Your choices?

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” – Exodus 18:14

His answer interestingly enough dodges the second question. Jethro wanted to know why Moses judges alone.

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.” – Exodus 18:15

Do your in-laws ever ask uncomfortable questions? Questions that don’t make sense? Surely God chose only Moses to be the mediator, right? But Moses can’t say that because he knows how Aaron has shared in the responsibility. Even if Jethro wasn’t an Israelite, he was wise:

You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. 

You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.” – Exodus 18:18-22

Jethro gives advice, whether Moses wanted it or not. Does this happen to you ever? Getting advice you didn’t ask for? Getting criticized for something you believe is the right thing to do? By your in-laws of all people? They’re not your real parents, what do they know? Does it feel like there’s nothing you can do that’s right in their eyes? Well there’s a solution to this, and it requires a simple test that even Jethro understood:

If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” – Exodus 18:23

If God is also asking you do follow the advice, you should do it. If he isn’t, don’t do it. But surely you might be afraid that if you don’t listen to your in-laws then they’ll be even more upset than ever! That is the choice, God or man. Who will you follow? Who knows how to take care of you? Who is the wisest of all?

For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in. – Psalm 27:10

Don’t be afraid of rejection. If they reject you for not following God’s advice:

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” – Luke 10:16

But we are also to honor our parents, our in-laws, our family. There is a right way to handle advice that goes against God:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 2:1

And what if their advice is what God wants? You need to swallow your pride and do it. God sends people from all over to help us, even in-laws:

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. – Exodus 18:24-26

Imagine if Moses didn’t do this and became overwhelmed, going against God and trying to do everything on his own? For one thing, his relationship with Jethro would be damaged severely. Jethro might have sent an “I told you so” message here and there too, which might only antagonize the situation further. But we can theorize about the bad stuff all we want, what happened in Exodus is the good example. And Jethro didn’t stick around either, which I believe is because God wasn’t going to let him micro-manage Moses:

Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country. – Exodus 18:27

If you follow your in-laws’ advice, if it coincides with God’s will, God will place them in the most appropriate spot in your life. In Moses’ case, Jethro didn’t need to be around very long. In Ruth’s case, her mother-in-law stayed with her for years:

Ruth said, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. – Ruth 1:16

None of this is bad, it’s what God decides is good for you. Your in-laws may have varying degrees of involvement with your life, and when they give that advice you’re dreading, or if you love to hear from them, always remember what Jethro said:

If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” – Exodus 18:23

If your in-laws give you advice, and God is saying the same thing, follow it and you will stand the strain, and you will be satisfied.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. – Proverbs 12:15

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