Monday, March 30, 2009

A word study on complacency

While reading a book which I will soon review, I learned that Ruth Bell Graham loved to read Proverbs. As I hadn't done an in-depth study of the book of Proverbs for a few years, I decided to give it a try.

In my first sitting, I reached this verse:
"For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;" (Pvbs. 1:32)
It makes sense enough, but I wanted to investigate just what was meant by "complacency." Was it present in my life?

I have heard the concept of complacency pop up at various times in Christian messages. "Christians need to stop being so complacent...we need to get out there and preach the Gospel." Something along those lines. Hearing it in this context, I often associated it with apathy or inaction.

Merriam-Webster defines complacency as "self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies."

Although the word complacency has negative connotations, the Hebrew word in Proverbs 1:32 is actually used in different contexts. The word can mean either genuine OR false security, peace, quietness, prosperity (used in the Russian), abundance (definitions from Strong's Concordance).

For example: "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife."-Proverbs 17:1. The word for peace and quiet here is the same as in 1:32.

It seems that the problem is not the prosperity itself, but the source. For the next verse in chapter one reads, "but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (v.33)

Those who reached a kind of false security will be destroyed, while those who seek the Lord find a genuine sense of security.

There is a similar word used in Isaiah which can also be translated "complacency."
"You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say! In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come..."(Is.32:9,10)
Here the women are warned not to feel too secure, as danger is coming.

Using the same term, Amos 6:1 warns, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!" Later in the chapter, the Lord rebukes Israel's pride. Not even the "foremost nation" should find satisfaction in something other than in the Lord.

Where do we seek satisfaction? Is it in wealth, fame, academic success? Many of us shake our heads at those, but another stumbling block is religiosity. For it is easy to feel that we are at a good place with God and can relax a little.

Complacency may be linked to inaction, or faith "without works," but the answer, as I can tell, is not to go out and begin "doing," although it is natural to feel stirred up to act. The answer begins in the heart. What characterizes the fools in Proverbs 1? They have not set their hearts on seeking wisdom. They have found satisfaction in "self" and haven't looked outside of themselves.

I'm sure there are many other places in the Bible that relate to this topic. I haven't even touched on anything in the New Testament.

I think it is going to take me a long time to get through Proverbs...


  1. Liz, can you also elaborate on "the waywardness of the simple". I am not sure what it exactly means. I will try to do my own research but I want to compare it with yours.

  2. Thanks for your question. What did you find out from your research?

    To be "wayward" sounds like to "wander." In Strong's it says that it means to backslide or turn away.

    Failure to stick to the one, true path...

  3. Liz, I came to the same conclusion as yours in my search for the meaning(s) for that sentence. But you know what I really think about all of this?

    You know, somewhere it says that the Law came through Moses, but the grace and mercy came through Jesus Christ. I think, as much as the Old Testament can be considered as a valid thing, in many ways, it should be ignored by those who believe in Jesus Christ. If you may recall, The New Testament says that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. It's SO different from that old stuff.

    Knowing all of that (and there are dozens of other verses that say that we, as Christians, are free from the Law of sin and death) I believe that, as much as what Solomon had to say should be taken into consideration, it should be neglected (or considered as nothing) in comparison to what Jesus had to say.

    And he had to say a lot. He took a prostitute and forgave her. He took a leper and cleansed him. He took a dead man and raised him... and so forth.

    I do not like the Old Testament (except the Psalms of David). The O.T. is a killing machine. It's not even worth reading... But again some may disagree. May God have mercy on them.

  4. Vitali, I like reading the OT, because it helps me see God's plan from the beginning. Christ's coming and sacrifice have so much more meaning in the light of God's promises.

    As to warfare in the OT, that is a separate topic. It can be hard to stomach. But that's natural. I don't think God wants us to take it lightly.


Note: Comments aren't proofread, but I will delete them if they seem inappropriate.

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).