Anxiety: the link to people's opinions


Last Sunday we looked at Matthew 6:24 – 34 in our sermon in the mount series. This post is one in a series that addresses some follow up issues (The fist two posts are Anxiety: is it ok to plan for the future? and Anxiety: will God always give me food to eat?). You can also listen to the sermon HERE, or subscribe in iTunes.

Often we read the Sermon on the Mount topic by topic. We will study anger, lust, divorce, giving, praying, and fasting individually. There is no doubt that every topic Jesus raises in his sermon is worthy of individual consideration. We should set our mind on each of these things individually and search Scripture in the hopes that God will lay bare the root of our sin and put it to death with the Gospel. But there is another way to look at the Sermon on the Mount that is equally important and holds its own lessons. We can read looking for the bigger picture. Think of it like this: we can read Jesus’ sermon through a microscope or a telescope. Both views are beneficial and necessary, and often we will see something different through each lens.

When we consider anxiety from a narrower approach, say Matthew 6:24 – 34, we hear Jesus telling us that God cares for us and will gladly provide for his children. That is a powerful truth that we can battle our anxious thoughts and feelings with, but for most of us it is only half the battle. Half of our anxiety comes from failing to believe that God will take care of us, while the other half of our anxiety comes from the way we view other people. One of the greatest sources of our anxiety is our fear of what people will think of us. We tend to run our decisions, actions, and speech through a filter that asks one question: what will they think? The ‘they’ in that question is different for everyone, and often varies from situation to situation. I might be our family, our neighbors, our coworkers, even our church. We can be so impacted by fear of others that at best we will change our plans and at worst become paralyzed with fear and do nothing.

Now, I know as adults we like to think that we have conquered this demon. We like to think that we are our own man or woman and do what we like or think is best. We like to think that other people’s opinions have little to no effect on us. But that is often not the case. I like to use the illustration of public speaking to make this point. Public speaking consistently ranks as the second greatest fear among Americans–death is number one. Chances are you would be anxious, some more than others, if you had to address a room of 1,000 people. But why? What will those people do to you? Are you afraid that they will hurt you, kill you if you do poorly? Are you afraid that they will ruin your life? Most likely not. The one fear that runs in your mind and heart is, What will they think of me?

Jesus knows our hearts propensity to overvalue the opinions of people and so become anxious. What I find interesting is that Jesus deals with this before he tells me not to be anxious in Mt. 6:24. In the first 21 verse of Chapter 6 Jesus is talking about giving, praying, and fasting, but those three subject are illustrations of a central point Jesus is making; namely, that we should seek the praise of God and not the praise of men (You can find that sermon HERE, titled Opinion of men | Opinion of God). Jesus’ three fold refrain is “Do not seek the praise of men, seek your Father’s praise–Mt. 6:4, 6, 17-18. And so when I look at Mathew 6 as a whole, the telescope view, I see that Jesus addresses the two great pillars of our anxiety. First, overvaluing the opinions of others, and the second, failing to believe that God will take care of me.

The truth that can knock down both of those pillars is to believe that what God offers is not just sufficient, but better than the alternative. In this case, we fight the anxiety that comes from fearing others opinions by believing that the opinion of God is more important and far more rewarding than the opinions of men. Jesus tells me that when I see that my whole body will be full of light (Mt. 6:22-23). So take the telescopic view of Matthew 6 and battle your anxiety on both fronts.

If you are interested in reading more on fearing the opinion of men and the anxiety that comes from it I would recommend Ed Welch’s book, When People are Big and God is Small

Tomorrow’s post–Anxiety: fighting with your body