Stagnant in Spirit


The following is a portion of the revelation against Jerusalem that was received by the prophet Zephaniah:

It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good or evil!’ Moreover, their wealth will become plunder and their houses desolate; yes, they will build houses but not inhabit them, and plant vineyards but not drink their wine’” (Zephaniah 1:12-13).

This prophecy was against those who were “stagnant in spirit” or “settled in complacency” (NKJV). As it was in the days of Zephaniah, complacency is still a threat to God’s people today. Complacency keeps us focused on the here and now rather than fixing our eyes on the goal of heaven. Complacency keeps us from improving our service to God and forsaking our sins. Complacency keeps us from being pleasing to God, thereby setting us up for punishment. So let us consider how these people were “stagnant in spirit” so that we might not be the same.

The Danger of Being Too Comfortable

The people were in the position of facing God’s punishment because they were too comfortable. The text specifically mentioned the wealth, houses, and vineyards that became their focus to the neglect of serving God. Sadly, they had an explicit warning about this danger since the Law was given.

Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

Enjoying comfort in this life often (though not always) leads one to ignore God. This is particularly sad because the comfort that we enjoy in this life is a blessing from God (James 1:17; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). But physical comfort can make the need for spiritual comfort not seem to be pressing, as was the case with the rich land owner in Jesus’ parable who said to his soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Ignoring our spiritual needs, even temporarily, is foolish (Luke 12:20).

Wealth is not wrong, but we must never put it before the Lord. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). We must be willing to give up anything for Christ. It is often difficult for the rich to be willing to give up wealth (Matthew 19:21-24). Yet we are admonished to not “fix [our] hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God” (1 Timothy 6:17).

There is also a danger in becoming too comfortable in our spiritual lives. We are to continue to grow as we serve the Lord (2 Peter 3:18), not remain in our current state or at the same level of maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14). In speaking of the hope of the resurrection, Paul said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul was determined to not let his past hinder his race to the goal of heaven. On this point, we might immediately think of past sins and we must certainly not allow those to hinder us (cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16). However, it is also true that we must not allow past accomplishments and victories to cause us to become complacent in our present service to God. We are not just to be faithful until we have won a major victory for the cause of the Lord, we are to be “faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10).

Forgetting God, But Not Completely

The people of Zephaniah’s prophecy still acknowledged God – at least to some degree. Though they said, “The Lord will not do good or evil!” (Zephaniah 1:12), their statement still implied a basic belief in the existence of God. Sadly, at the day of judgment, there will be many who believe in God but will still be lost (Matthew 7:22-23). Like the people of Jerusalem, they do not forget God completely, but forget Him to a certain degree. How is this so?

First, they no longer look to God for blessings. They will say, “The Lord will not do good.” Yet the Lord always does good (James 1:17). By His providence, He gives all men “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons” (Acts 14:17). Without the good things that God provides, our existence is not possible (Colossians 1:16-17). But when one no longer acknowledges God as the source of blessings, he will no longer “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Without gratitude, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 12:28).

Second, they no longer fear Him for judgment. They will say, “The Lord will not do…evil.” Yet God, throughout the Bible record, has shown His ability and willingness to punish the wicked (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6-11). Though many will mock and say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:3), we must not think that the passage of time is an indication that God has forgotten. Peter said, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Though many years may pass, “the day of the Lord will come” (2 Peter 3:10). When that day comes, we will stand before Him in judgment to be “recompensed for [our] deeds in the body, according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, we must “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

The Fate of Those Who Are Stagnant

Those who are complacent will be disappointed. The material things in which people put their trust and which they allow to distract them from their service to God do not last forever (Matthew 6:19-21). Even in this life, riches are uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17). Nothing in this life can compare with the reward of following the Lord. Moses recognized this when he chose to be numbered with the people of God rather than with the Egyptians. He considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). If we do not recognize this as well, we will be disappointed.

Those who are complacent will also be punished. Salvation requires continued diligence (Hebrews 4:11). The Bible does not teach the “once saved, always saved” doctrine that is popular among the denominations (1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:4). If we are not growing (bearing fruit), we will be cut off (John 15:2; Romans 11:22).


God told the people that He would “search Jerusalem with lamps” (Zephaniah 1:12). There would be no hiding from the Lord. He would find them and bring them to judgment. The same is true for us.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

There is no hiding from God. We must conform every aspect of our lives to His will – even the thoughts and intentions of our hearts – if we hope to please Him. We must never allow ourselves to become complacent and “stagnant in spirit,” but continue to diligently and wholeheartedly serve the Lord.

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  1. David Clark says

    Great teaching straight from the Bible! What a great many people have wandered from the faith with a false peace that ‘once saved, always saved’.

    The parable of the Sower and the Seed sheds light on individuals receiving Christ and then losing Salvation because of a shallow root in the Word or falling prey to the ‘deceitfulness of riches’ and the cares of this world.