I am an agreeable person, or at least I like to think so. I try and be helpful when I can be, and one of the words I’ve used to describe myself to people is “complaisant.” I remember one occasion when I was describing myself to a friend that “I’m complaisant—with an I!” She looked very confused for a moment before I explained. Complaisant is a homonym; it has the exact same pronunciation as the word complacent, which is a word that I absolutely didn’t want her to think I said. Complacent, with an E, is the word so frequently heard in church, often preceded by the phrase, “Do not be.”
Complacent—with an E—means to be uncritically satisfied. Most every time I’ve heard this has been during a teaching on how people fell into sin because of carelessness, as if being complacent and lazy were the same. If you’re uncritical, then you’re content with how things are. It means you neither strive to improve nor recognize when you’re not good enough; it is essentially wallowing in pride. Anyone who has made the mistake of becoming tolerant of sinful behavior is not striving to be like Christ.
On the contrary, to be complaisant—with an I—means to comply with the desires, advice, or instructions of others. If you’re complaisant, then you are accommodating, or at least try to be agreeable. Complaisance is essentially being a servant to someone. We can see our ultimate example of a servant in Jesus, who was complaisant to the will of the Father—even to the point that He was willing to die. “[Jesus] said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’” (Mark 14:36).
When I told my friend, “I’m complaisant—with an I!” I was trying to make a very important distinction. More importantly though, I make the distinction in my own life. The line between complaisance and complacency is one that I have to be conscious not to cross. If I ever stop examining myself or become lazy in my walk, I will begin to slip from the former into the latter. I Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” What happens to an athlete who falls into the trap of thinking they are good enough all the time? They stop striving, and by extension, they grow weaker in achieving their goals. Even if just to remind myself to serve others and serve the Lord, I must clarify that my goal is to be complaisant—with an I!