One of the ongoing battles I have in life is with anxiety over what people think of me.
My mind is often filled with thoughts like “did I say the wrong thing? Do they like me? What will people think if I do this or don’t do that? Have I offended that person?”
I had some professional counselling a few years ago and this was the major issue that the counsellor flagged up. He pointed out that I spent too much time thinking about what people might think about me. I craved approval from people and dreaded disapproval. (I still do but I am in recovery)
That sort of fixation with other people’s approval or disapproval has caused me some problems in my mental health but Jesus in Matthew 6 draws attention to the fact that it can also damage our spiritual health.
Several times in Matthew chapter 5 Jesus talks about “hypocrites” who he describes as those who act out their spirituality for the approval of people rather than of God, doing the right thing for the wrong motives.
Here is an example, 5 ‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 5
It’s not just a desire for approval from other people than can damage our spiritual health. In his book on the Sermon on the Mount Skye Jethani points out that fear of what other people will think of what we say and do is also spiritual poison.
I wonder how many of us in church act in ways that are designed to win other people’s approval or avoid their disapproval?
It really boils down to this; do we really care more about what other people think about us or about what God thinks about us?