Complacent is an interesting word to think about. When do we experience complacency in life? We typically become complacent about things that we become used to experiencing. We become unconcerned and comfortable about something in our life. Sometimes we hear about a sports team becoming complacent after winning a championship. They are now satisfied and do not push for the next season. We hear about complacency in marriage, taking for granted the relationship, which led to future problems. But Zephaniah comes on the scene and proclaims God’s message because the people have become complacent about their sins. They have become satisfied in their sins and unconcerned about their sins and about God. The prophet is going to show us the problem about becoming complacent in their sins and what needs to be done.
The First Picture of Complacency (1:1-6)
The first verse of Zephaniah’s prophecy tells us a little about him and about the time of his message. We are told that Zephaniah’s great, great grandfather was the righteous king, Hezekiah. Further, he is going to declare God’s message during the reign of Josiah. This puts us around 625 BC which is recorded in 2 Kings 22. But here is the important aspect to keep in mind. Josiah is a righteous king who is putting in reforms for the nation of Judah. But the prophecy of Zephaniah is not hopeful in spite of having a righteous king or having godly reforms.
Zephaniah begins by speaking about a coming global judgment. The imagery reminds us of the flood in Noah’s day where God wiped everything off the face of the earth (cf. Genesis 6:7). The world is pictured as worthy of a severe judgment. But the focal point of the message is regarding the judgment against Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem (1:4). What have the people of God done that is bringing such a severe judgment against them? Notice in verse 5 we are told that the people bow down and swear to the Lord but then also do the same toward Milcom, a false god. The picture of that they have a hypocritical heart. The people have a divided heart. The people bow down to the Lord and pledge their loyalty to him but they have turned back from following the Lord (1:6). They do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.
Think about this amazing picture. They physically worship the Lord. Their mouths say the right things, declaring their loyalty to the Lord. But they do not follow the Lord. They do not seek the Lord. They do the inquire of the Lord. This is the first picture of complacency. You keep performing acts of worship and you keep saying all the right things about your loyalty to the Lord, but you do not follow him. You claim that the Lord is your God but you do not inquire of him. This is not a problem that is just about the people of Judah but is a constant threat for God’s people. Jesus gave the same warning to people in his day about what it meant to follow him.
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words. (Mark 7:6–7 CEB)
God is warning us that it is easy to say all the right things. It is easy to look the part when we gather. It is easy to pretend. This is especially worthy of thinking about considering that this prophecy comes when Josiah is repairing the temple and making spiritual reforms. God needs our hearts to be fixed, not just doing certain things or not doing certain things.
The Second Picture of Complacency (1:7-12)
Verses 7-11 continue the picture of coming judgment which leads into the second picture of the people’s complacency. In verse 12 we see that the complacent are those “who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’” There is an amazing visual picture that is given here that can be lost in translation. The NASB reads, “Who are stagnant in spirit.” The CSB reads, “Who settle down comfortably.” The NIV reads, “Who are like wine left on its dregs.” The NET notes say that the Hebrew phrase is imagery that comes from wine making, where the wine, if allowed to remain on the sediment too long, will then into syrup. I think the CSB captures the imagery well. The people have settled down comfortably. They are comfortable in life. We become comfortable with our families, comfortable with our wealth, comfortable in our homes, comfortable with our entertainment, comfortable in our careers, and comfortable in our schedules so that we settle into our sins. Remember that the sin is they say that they follow God and they worship God, but they do not seek him, inquire of him, or follow him. What happens is that we become so comfortable and satisfied in this world that we lose our zeal and fervor for the Lord. We stop caring about the lost. We do not care about each other. We just do worship and hurry home because we are comfortable. We do not need anyone else or anything else.
The reason we continue to do this is described in the rest of verse 12. We do not believe God is going to do anything about it. God does not do good to me and God does not judge me. The belief is that the Lord is alive but he is not active. God does not do anything. He is a god like the Baal that Elijah decried. He is asleep or on a trip or preoccupied. But he does not do anything, either good or bad. We stay in our complacency and lack zeal because we think God is not going to do anything about it. So we settle into this world and become preoccupied with this life, with this country, with this job, with this family, and with this money and lose regard for God. But we still worship while we do this. This is the heart that Zephaniah is condemning.
The Third Picture of Complacency (1:13-18)
In verse 13 the prophet tells the people that their plans will come to nothing. In verse 18 he tells them that their wealth will not save them from the coming judgment. Part of the people’s complacency is that they think they will keep on carrying out their plans tomorrow like they did today and their wealth will preserve them through any difficulty. We spent time last year thinking about how God can blow up our plans and no amount of money can help. All of our plans last year were discarded because of Covid. We are only able to carry out our plans because God allows it. Further, our wealth has not protected us from this. Your wealth did not get your toilet paper when it was all gone and your wealth has not keep you from getting sick. The point is that we become complacent because we trust in our plans and we trust in our wealth. Neither of these will save us when God brings judgment.
In verse 13 God says that he is not going to allow them to enjoy any of God’s blessings. They think they are rich but God is going to have them plundered. They think they have their houses to enjoy but God is going to have their houses laid waste. They think they will build their houses but God is not going to allow them to move into them. They plant their vineyards but they are not going to enjoy any of the fruit. We are only able to enjoy any of our job, wealth, family, and stuff because God allows it. But the terrible picture of complacency is that all of these blessings of wealth, career, family, and possessions steal our hearts so that we no longer seek the Lord. We say that we do but we do not. We are pursuing our stuff, our wealth, our careers, and our families first. Our excuse for why we are not active for the Lord is because we have work obligations, family obligations, and other things to do or take care of in our lives. Somehow we think this is acceptable to God.
The point of chapter 1 is that the people might be complacent but God is not. God is going to act. A stagnant faith declares allegiance to the Lord but does not follow the Lord or inquire of him. A stagnant faith says that God does not do anything, neither good nor bad. A stagnant faith believes that our plans will continue on because of our own power and our wealth will rescue us from any trouble. You might remember that Jesus had the very same warning to the church that was in the city of Laodicea.
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:16–17 ESV)
You will notice that it is the same problem. These Christians are satisfied in this world. They are rich. They are prosperous. They have what they need. The problem is that this condition causes us to not see that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. We cannot see the poor condition of our faith when we complacent in this world. In verse 19 he tells them to be zealous and repent. The fix is stated by Jesus in Revelation 3:20.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)
The fix is not more externals. Israel was already worshiping God and saying that they were loyal to God. What did God want? God wants us to have a relationship with him. Open the door of your heart and allow this relationship to develop. Spend time with God. We can put an end to stagnant faith and complacency when we go away from doing what we think would appease God to seeking a relationship that pleasing to God. The invitation is to change your life if you will let Jesus into your life. Do not be comfortable with the world and with your sins. Seek to have a relationship with the Lord.