A Smart Home...with In-Laws? - Genesis 28-31 - Skip Heitzig
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Would you open your bibles, please, the book of Genesis chapter 28. Genesis chapter 28-- boy, they did a good job on that little skit, didn't they?
There was a couple driving down a country road and they were having a discussion-- husband and wife just talking to each other, but the discussion turned into a disagreement. And it got pretty heated so finally, they just pulled out the silent treatment. Neither one of them was talking to the other. And they didn't want to concede their position.
So as they were driving out in the country, they passed a farm. And on the farm, there are pigs and there are goats and mules and the husband couldn't resist. He pointed over to them and said, relatives of yours? And she said yes, actually, in-laws.
So in-laws are the family you get when you get married. Jay Adams who wrote several books on counseling and relationships-- said perhaps, the most difficult of all relationships to deal with is the in-law relationship. It's true that you marry the family.
Now, on my wedding day, I had a rude awakening. It was the very first time I had met my mother-in-law. I'd never met her until that day. She flew out from Michigan. She came out.
So before the wedding, we were introduced. And she came up to me and she told me who she was and she said, if you ever mistreat my daughter, I will break both your legs.
Well, as a young man, I was like well, nice to meet you, too. I was just so shocked, I really didn't know what to say. And I've reminded her of that line for years. And she said, well just so you know, the offer still stands. So that was my introduction to my in-laws-- my mother-in-law, at least.
And what's the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Do you know? Outlaws are wanted.
Now, all of that aside-- that little joking aside-- listen to some of the real-life struggles that people like us who deal with in-laws a lot, what their concerns are. This is one young lady who said, my husband's mother wants to tell me how to cook. I've cooked my own meals for five years before we got married. I think I know how to cook. I don't need her help.
Then, a couple of parents complained. They said our son-in-law has essentially, kidnapped our daughter. Since they got married, he refuses to let her come to our family events. And then, one young mother said, my sister-in-law is driving me crazy. She's always telling me how to raise my children. But the thing is-- she continues-- she's single. That'd be very frustrating-- all of these scenarios would be frustrating.
I think honestly, Adam and Eve had the best relationship because neither of them had in-laws that they had to deal with. They were just a fresh creation of God.
But you should also know that there are plenty of examples in the Bible of healthy in-law relationships. One of them is Moses. Moses had a father-in-law name Jethro-- Exodus chapter 18. And they seem to have a very amicable relationship with each other, where Moses asked his father-in-law for advice. His father-in-law was happy to give it. And Moses was happy to receive it. In fact, obeyed what was recommended-- that's one.
Another one is in the book of Ruth. You know that Ruth had a mother-in-law named Naomi. Ruth was a Moabitess. Ruth's husband died and instead of going off to her own people, she decided she would spend her future with her mother-in-law. In fact, some of the most famous verses in the Old Testament-- where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.
And then in the New Testament, there's the story of Peter and Peter's mother-in-law. A couple of times in the synaptic gospels that is recorded in Matthew chapter 8, she is living in his home in Capernaum while being sick with the fever. Now, here's what's interesting. The Bible says nothing about Peter's wife, but Peter's mother-in-law is mentioned favorably-- now, there's a lot of reasons for that, perhaps, but that's noteworthy.
We come to Genesis 28 today-- Genesis 28 through 31-- where Jacob-- the young man who's going to get married in this case-- he is with his father, Isaac and that's the first part of our story. The second part is Jacob with his father-in-law by the name of Laban-- you've probably heard of him.
Jacob leaves home, goes to find a wife. Marries the girl so now he has a wife. But gets part of the package deal-- this crazy father-in-law named Laban.
There was a middle-aged man who went to a doctor and the doctor ran his blood tests and x-rays and said look, things don't look good for you. You have six months to live. So I'm recommending that you go home, get your house in order. Make funeral arrangements. Spend the last six months of your life in peace. Get some rest, enjoy your life.
The man was shocked, but before he left the doctor said, I'm just curious, where do you think you'll spend the last six months of your life? He said, I think I'm going to go move in with my mother-in-law. The doctor said, you got to be kidding? Of all people, why would you choose her? He said, because they're going to be the longest six months of my life.
Now, let me suggest that there are four roles that are necessary to make the in-law relationship work. There's the parents role, there's God's role, there's the in-laws role, and there's the children's role-- the children who are married adults.
First of all, parents. Parents must release their children.
In chapter 28, verse 1, we begin, "then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him, you shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father and take yourself a wife from there of the daughter of Laban, your mother's brother."
"May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may be an assembly of peoples. And give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham." So he sent Jacob away and he went to Padan Aram to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Now, Isaac does what every parent needs to do-- release your children. He doesn't say stay, son. Don't leave. He says go. I remember the day my dad said, it's time for you to leave. I'm releasing you. Go get a life. Go get a job. Go get a career. Do whatever you do. We've enjoyed having you in the home, but it's time for you to be launched.
One of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child is to prepare that child for that release date, for that launch. So they can stand on their own before God.
Genesis chapter 2-- a text we've already looked at-- God said a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Don't you find it interesting that God said to Adam and Eve-- a couple who had no parents-- to leave?
For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and cleave onto his wife-- why did He tell them that? Because God was establishing the principle. You're going to have the kids. You're going to need to release those children to have a family of their own.
Psychologists refer to this as cutting the psychological apron strings. And as Christians, we understand that children are lent to us by God. They're not ours. We are stewards of them. We infuse certain values and principles. We help shape their lives. And then, we release them.
So leaving doesn't mean deserting. Don't think of it in terms of deserting. Think of it in terms of developing. You are developing that child for a shift in allegiance-- this is what I mean by that.
For that young man, the dominant female figure in his life up to that point was his mother. Now, it's his wife. And for that young woman, the dominant male figure for her was her father. Now, it's her husband. Unless this happens, the couple will not reach the fulfillment, the pinnacle, the potential God has in marriage.
So my advice to parents-- every time you look at that little child you're raising or the children in your home, every time you see them, add this thought-- I need to think about the release. I need to prepare them for that date of release.
Then if you have older children, they're out of the house, they're married, and maybe you are resenting a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law-- you think they stole my child from me, like you saw in the skit. You need to think back to their wedding day when you sat in the front row. And you were the proud mama or papa and you were watching all of that happen. And you heard the preacher give the vows and say, I now pronounce you husband and wife.
That's what all of your work was leading up to. All of your preparation. You've been training your child for this moment.
You taught your child the value of hard work. Taught them how to cook, clean, save money, make good choices. Now, you regard them and you view them as adults independent, charting their own course. And I'll just say from experience-- an empty nest can produce a full heart if the release is done right.
Now, I want to address in this first point-- young couples. When it says a man will leave father and mother-- leaving doesn't just mean move out of the house. It means cutting the cord of dependence and leaving emotionally and psychologically.
You can have parents 3,000 miles away that you've never left. You can have parents who have died, but you've never left.
A 65-year-old man who had been married 40 years after he heard a sermon on this said, I now understand why my wife and I have had so many problems. My wife never really left her father and mother.
Now, let me also say that as a young married couple, there is the need to affirm the release that has been done. Affirm the leaving and the cleaving in front of your parents. How do you do that?
By commending your mate in front of your parents. By extolling the virtues of your mate in front of your parents. By not complaining about your mate in front of your parents. Not saying negative things that would just make it difficult for your parents to respect your spouse.
So the first role is for parents, they must release their children. The second role is God's role-- at least, chronologically in our story. And here is the reason for the first point-- the reason for the release of your children is because God can rule your children. God can manage where you left off.
Look down at verse 10 chapter 28. Now, Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So here's the single guy, left his house, out on his own for the first time. He came to a certain place and stayed there all night because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head so was his My Pillow of that era.
And he laid down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, a ladder was set up on the Earth. It's top reached to heaven and there, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And behold, the Lord stood above it. And he said, I am the Lord, God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I will give to you and your what? Descendants. Well, he's saying that to a single man.
Also, your descendants shall be as the dust of the Earth. And you will spread abroad to the west, to the east, to the north, to the south and in you and in your seed, all the families of the Earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and I will keep you wherever you go. And will bring you back to this land for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.
Now, this is the reason we release our children because God is perfectly capable of handling our children. How can God ever do it without me? Watch Him. God does it here perfectly well without Isaac or Rebekah involved. Jacob is out on his own. He has been released.
But it's sort of like this-- his father said go and his Heavenly Father said come. There's a great scripture-- Psalm 27 verse 10-- the Psalm that said, when my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. We have the Lord taking him up here, taking care of him.
So some of you have been worried about your son's choices or your daughter's choices-- release them, but release them to the Lord. In fact, you might have to do that daily. Lord, I'm releasing them to you. I'm just praying for them right now. Take care of them. Interpose your will. Get involved in their lives.
When I first launched my son, Nate, when we did-- I'll be honest, I was a bit worried. I wasn't sure about the choices he was making, if they were the proper choices. But I have to say, looking back, I think God has done OK. God is perfectly able to manage, get a hold, shape, direct a person's life. And I think you will agree that if a couple-- a young married couple, and the parents, and the in-laws are all seeking the Lord's will, life is going to be a whole lot easier.
Now, something you'll notice-- I commented on it briefly-- but notice that God affirms His will for Jacob to get married and have children, to raise a family. Verse 13-- I'm going to give this land to you and your descendants. Well, you have to get married to have descendants. You have to get married, have babies, the babies have babies, et cetera, et cetera, to have a group of descendants.
The promise continues-- verse 14-- also, your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth and you'll spread abroad. And then in verse 15-- sort of, the capstone of it-- behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.
God is establishing for Jacob, a grid-- a grid, a lens from which he can do life. Call it a priority grid. God is the God of the covenant. God speaks as the God of the covenant to Jacob, announcing descendants will follow. So here's the priority grid-- God first, family second. God first, family second. God establishes that for Jacob.
When you get to the New Testament, interestingly, the book of the Ephesians follows this grid, but elaborates on it. This is what I mean.
In Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3, the focus is on the priority relationship for us all-- our relationship with God. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Ephesians talk about our relating to other people. Chapter 4-- our general principles of relationships. Chapter 5 deals with specifics of husband and wife, parents and children. Then chapter 6, employer-employee relationship. So that's the grid, that's the priority. God first, spouse second, children third, work fourth-- all the way down.
That-- I believe-- is a deliberate order because the same outline order is followed in the book of Colossians and the book of 1 Timothy. So Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy all employ this grid of priorities-- God, spouse, children, work, et cetera. That's God's pattern.
If you don't keep that pattern, your life is going to be out of kilter, out of whack. If you don't keep God's pattern, work will start taking precedence over your family. If you don't keep this pattern, your kids may start taking precedence over your spouse. If you don't keep this pattern, your family or your career might take precedence over God. So that's the order-- God, spouse, children, work, and everything else.
I've counseled so many couples over the years who have found this out a bit too late. They became so consumed with having a family and raising a family that when the children left the nest, they had no identity. They felt lost, and empty, and moorless, and purposeless because they found their identity in being a mother rather than a wife. Or a father rather than a husband. And they forgot the role of the child of God relationship because they became consumed on one thing.
So if you pursue God with all of your heart, that's the best thing you can do for your wife or husband. Show them that you love them, but you love God most. That's the best gift you can give to them.
And the best thing you can do for your children is to pursue God and to pursue your spouse. Show them God first, spouse second, you third. You love them all, but there is a priority that you live with.
Now, in our story, it takes a turn. Jacob gets married-- that's the good part-- but he gets in-laws, as well-- that's the sticky part. So we're going to move ahead to chapter 29-- get ready in that chapter. This takes us to the role of in-laws.
Parents must release their children. God can rule their children. In-laws should reinforce or support their children.
Now, having said that, you need to know something upfront-- that does not happen here. It should happen, but it doesn't happen. Laban-- the father-in-law of Jacob-- is very divisive, very manipulative. I want you to see that-- chapter 29, beginning in verse 18-- now, Jacob loved Rachel so he said, I will serve you-- speaking to his future father-in-law-- I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.
Laban said, well, it's better that I give her to you than I should give her to another man. Stay with me. So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her-- one of the most romantic statements ever.
Fast forward to the wedding night-- verse 23. Now, it came to pass in the evening that he-- Laban-- took Leah-- his daughter-- and brought her to Jacob so a switcheroo happened. This is the father. Switches the girls up so Jacob went into her-- go down to verse 25-- it came to pass in the morning, behold, it was Leah. Surprise, shock, bummer.
And he said to Laban, what is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then, have you deceived me?
And Laban said, it must not be done so in our country to give the younger before the first born. In other words, got to follow our little custom here. Fulfill her week and we will give you this one also, for this service, which you will serve with me still another seven years.
Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. And so he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife, also. Listen, this is the father-in-law from hell. You think your father-in-law or mother in-law is bad? can't hold a candle of this guy.
He cares nothing at all for his daughter. He cares nothing at all for his son-in-law. He cares only for himself. He's completely self-centered. In fact, he's after his own financial benefit.
So can you see, the in-law relationship is not off to a good start? Starts bad and it even deteriorates from here.
I'd like you to turn over to chapter 31 for a moment, I want you to follow something. We're fast forwarding now 20 years-- 20 years-- later. And 20 years later, the time has come for them to split company. They have grown a family business. It has prospered under Jacob's hard work. Jacob has had enough.
Laban is angry. The tension is very high. It's difficult. So they have a little powwow. They get together and have a confrontation.
And in chapter 31, go down to verse 41-- you will notice that Laban, in this heated conversation, reveals his true heart. Jacobs says to his father-in-law, thus, I have been in your house 20 years. I've served you 14 years for your two daughters and six years for your flock. And you have changed my wages 10 times. That doesn't mean upward. He didn't get a raise. He got demotions.
Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac had been with me, surely, now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands and he rebuked you last night.
And Laban answered and said to Jacob, these daughters are my daughters. These children are my children. And this flock is my flock. And all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these, my daughters, or to their children whom they have borne?
There's a lot of tension between these two guys-- can you feel it? And let me say at this point-- life is too short to live with broken relationships. If there is that tension-- and probably, there is in many of our in-law relationship-- if it exists, do your part. You may not be able to fix it, but do all you can to ease that tension and mend that relationship.
Doesn't mean you have to agree with your mother-in-law, or father-in-law, or son-in-law, or daughter-in-law, but you do have to love them.
There was a successful businessman, loved his daughter. His daughter got married so he decided to bring his son-in-law into his office. Sat him down. He said I love my daughter, and I want to welcome you into our family. And to show you how much I care, I'm going to make you a partner in the family business. I'm splitting the business with you 50/50-- generous, right?
He said, all you have to do is show up at the factory every day and learn operations. And the guy said yeah, I'm not really into factories. I don't like the noises, they bother me. I don't think I can do that.
Father-in-law said, OK. Then, I'll have you come to the office every day and learn the business part of it. The young man said no, I'm not an office guy. I'd hate to be stuck behind a desk all day long.
Well very frustrated, the father-in-law said so, wait a minute. I just made you half owner in a very lucrative moneymaking business and you can't come to the factory because it's noisy. And you won't come to the office because you don't like a desk job. I don't get it. What am I going to do with you?
And the young man looked up and said, easy, buy me out. Very clever, but lazy son-in-law. Very generous, but foolish father-in-law.
In our story, we have not a lazy, but a hard-working son-in-law in Jacob, but we do have a very unwise and unfair father-in-law. And here's the problem-- Laban refused to reinforce the choices that his daughter and son-in-law has made. In fact, he refused to release his daughter. Isaac released his son, Jacob. Laban refused to really release his daughter into Jacob's care.
Did you notice verse 43? These daughters are my daughters. These children-- referring to Jacob and Rachel and Leah's children, his grandchildren-- those children are mine. This flock is mine. All that you see is mine. So self-centered.
His error is that he failed to see the husband and wife relationship as superseding the parent-child relationship. Once that young couple says I do, there's that shift that happens and now, the husband-wife relationship supersedes, oversteps that parent-child relationship.
So parents should accept their child's mate like they would their own child. You know why? Because God said the two shall become one flesh. So if God looks at that couple as one flesh, then parents and in-laws should see them as one flesh. They should reinforce their child's choices.
Rule of thumb-- for fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, you've got a son or daughter married off-- rule of thumb in giving advice, here it is-- never give advice. Ever. Unless it's what? Asked for, requested. It's only advice upon request. If they don't ask for it, you don't give it. If they ask for it, you give it.
Now, if they don't follow your advice, don't resent them for it. And you know why? Because your advice is your advice. That's all it is. It's not scripture. So thus sayeth Skip. So?
It's not the Bible. They stand before the Lord. They make their own choices. They can consult the scriptures. You hope that they do. You trust that they do. But you don't resent them that they don't follow your advice.
Reinforcing your children and their choices is a whole lot better than resenting your children and their choices.
None of this stuff like, well, the reason you're in trouble is you married that idiot stick to begin with. You wouldn't have done that, you wouldn't have had these problems. So in-laws should reinforce their children.
Here's the fourth-- children have a role. The children who grow up and marry should respect their parents.
I want to take you down to go back in chapter 31 to verse 2-- go back to the beginning of that chapter, almost-- verse 2 of chapter 31. Jacob saw the countenance of Laban and indeed, it was not favorable toward him as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, return to the land of your fathers and to your family and I will be with you.
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock. And said to them, I see your father's countenance, that it's not favorable toward me-- you know what he's talking about. The body language. The guy gives him the stink eye when he sees him. Instead of a smile, not a happy countenance.
I see your father's countenance that it's not favorable toward me as before, but the God of my father has been with me. And do you know that with all my might, I have served your father. Yet, your father has deceived me and changed my wages 10 times. But God did not allow him to hurt me.
The tension is high between Jacob and Laban at this point. So Jacob summons his wives out to the field out to where the flocks are, out to where the farm business is taken care of. And he announces the plan going forward. The plan is God's plan. God says go back to your homeland, return, and I'll watch over you there.
So instead of staying to fight with Laban-- because he's a partner in the business-- instead of staying to fight with Laban, he decides I'm going to follow God's command to go back home. In doing so, he is honoring Laban. He could have interposed his own will. He could have stayed and fight. To could have fought for the family business and gotten more of the flocks.
But he doesn't do that. He honors him. He honors them. Though, he mentions failures, he focuses on God's faithfulness-- that's honoring. He did this, but God was with me. God did that.
So the Bible says we are to honor our father and our mother. It is a commandment. It is the fifth commandment. By the way-- they're the 10 Commandments not the 10 suggestions.
And to honor your parents also implies honoring your parents-in-law.
That command-- by the way-- has never been rescinded. It was never amended. It stands today as it always stood. We get to the New Testament, it is quoted in the New Testament.
In fact, when Paul talks about the family in Ephesians chapter 5 and chapter 6, he quotes this verse-- the verse in the 10 Commandments about honoring. He says honor your father and your mother. This was the first commandment with a promise that you may live long in the land. So it's still intact. It's still in place.
There was a young man who decided for Christmas one year, to buy his mother-in-law a cemetery plot-- tactless, right? The next year, he bought her nothing for Christmas and she was a little miffed. Said well, why didn't you buy me anything this year? He said well, you didn't use the gift I bought you last year.
Now, that young man thought that his mother-in-law was not honorable. Thus, he shouldn't honor her. And I hear this from people-- yeah, I know the Bible says honor your father and your mother, but I have in-laws who are not acting honorably.
That's not what the Bible says. It didn't say honor your father and your mother if they are acting honorably. It says honor them. There's no caveat. There's no PS. We are to honor them.
So here's my advice-- except your in-laws the way they are. It is not your job to try to change them. I know that's a revelation to some of us-- it's not. I thought that's why I was put on Earth-- no, it's not. Just like parents can entrust their children to God's rule, you can trust your in-laws to God's rule.
Don't criticize your in-laws in front of your mate because that just makes it harder for your mate to honor his or her parents. Rule of thumb-- 1 Timothy chapter 5 verse 1-- never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would your own father. That goes for father-in-laws, mother-in-laws.
Now, I'm going to close with just a little story that I found from USA Today. It's really directed to gals, but it does give insight to all of us and just shows how we all think in terms of wanting to build our future, build our homes.
So it says, a new store has opened-- the husband store. There's a sign at the entrance that says, you may visit the husband store only once. There are six floors and the value of the products increases on each successive floor. The shopper can choose any item from a particular floor or go up to shop on the next floor, but she cannot go back down, except to exit the building. Those are the rules.
So a woman goes into the store. On the first floor, the sign on the door reads floor number one, men who have good jobs. That's nice, she thinks, but I want more.
So she continues upward, where the sign reads floor two-- men who have good jobs and love kids. She's intrigued, but continues to the third floor, where the sign reads floor three-- men who have good jobs, love kids, and are extremely handsome.
Wow, she thinks, but she feels compelled to keep going. Floor number four-- men who have good jobs, love kids, are extremely handsome, and help equally with the housework.
It can't get any better than this, she exclaims. But then, a voice inside her asks, or can it? So she goes up and reads the sign. Floor five-- men who have good jobs, love kids, are extremely handsome, help equally with the housework, and have a great sense of humor.
Having found what she is looking for she's tempted to stay. But something propels her to the sixth floor where that sign reads-- floor six, you are a visitor 42,215,602 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. The floor only exists to prove that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the husband store.
Now, just as you're never going to find the perfect husband, he ain't never going to find the perfect in-laws. So closing thought-- your model, my model to follow is a model of Peter in the New Testament. Remember, Peter's wife isn't mention. Mother-in-law is mentioned favorably.
And in one of the other accounts-- in Luke chapter 4-- she is sick in Peter's home living in Capernaum. And what does Peter do? What some men would do they got a sick mother-in-law in their house-- Lord, take her home today.
You know what Peter does? Brings Jesus to her-- that's our model.
What do you do with that mother-in-law? Bring Jesus to her. What do you do with that father-in-law? Bring Jesus to him. What do you do with that son-in-law, daughter-in-law? Bring Jesus to them.
If they're unsaved, bring Jesus to them. If they are saved and a little bit cranky, bring Jesus to them. If they're saved, but not cranky, and godly, and sweet, bring more Jesus to them. Just keep bringing Jesus into all these relationships and that's going to help things flourish, rather than fail.
Our Father, we thank you that your word does speak to the human condition, even in these areas and issues of life. We find untainted scripture. You tell us exactly how things work. And in this case, they were not favorable in the Laban household.
So Father, we can see what to do and what not to do. And we thank you that you include this for our instruction. And I do pray for families of our fellowship. That they would be built up and made strong. And would grow in grace and in truth.
And I pray for all the different relationships in speaking about in-laws-- goodness, they touch all of our lives.
Help us to be the ones who will tactfully with respect bring Jesus into that relationship the best we know how. For your glory and in Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. How will you put the truths that you learned into action in your life? Let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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