Tony Evans - Pressing On to Maturity
Thank you. Good evening. It's always a joy and privilege to come to Gateway. We are forever grateful for your pastor, wife, and family as they have been so close to us, as well as this great church, and how you have walk with us through some of the difficult hours, particularly over these last few years that we have had as a family. And we appreciate that personally and ministerially, as you have supported us both locally and nationally, financially, as we have taken God's truth around the world. So, I never want to come here and not express our personal and collective gratitude for you, the leadership here, and how much we appreciate all that Gateway is to this community and the blessing it is to the Church of Jesus Christ International.
My daughter, Priscilla Shirer, was at the mall with my grandson, her third son, named Jude. And they were at the escalator, and Jude was walking up an escalator that was going down. The escalator was going down, but he was walking up. I'm sure you've had some of your children do that. Perhaps you've done that. After a while, he stopped walking, and she saw the escalator pull him down. All he had to do was stay still, and the direction of the escalator would determine where he wound up. You and I are living in a culture that's going down. We're living in a culture that is headed south. And all you've got to do is stay still, and it'll carry you with it. The trajectory that you and I are now facing in every segment of life and family, of morality, of education, it's going down. You pick the system; it's headed south at a cataclysmic speed. You don't have to agree with it. All you have to do is stand still. And if you stand still, because of where it's headed, it will carry you south.
The second most difficult book in the New Testament to interpret is the book of Hebrews, the first being Revelation, because of its symbolism. The reason it makes the book of Hebrews so tough is because it is operating with an assumption, because it was written to Christian Jews. And these Jews were steeped in an Old Testament worldview, yet they had now come to faith. And so, some of the passages can be difficult because it operates on the assumption that you understand the operation of the Old Covenant. But he tells these New Testament Christians who found themselves in an environment going south, they were being persecuted, they were being rejected, some were being put in prison, some were having properties confiscated, and they found themselves in an antagonistic environment going south.
And the temptation that was plaguing them was, "Is it worth it? Do we keep going? This has become too hard. Following Christ has become too tough. Trying to represent Him has placed us as the visiting team. We've lost home-field advantage". So, the question that is repeated over and over and over again is, "Is it worth keeping going when the escalator of society is headed south"? Throughout the book of Hebrews, there is this challenge mixed with a warning: "Don't quit. Don't throw in the towel. Don't reverse your direction, and don't stand still". For example, in chapter six of the book of Hebrews, he says, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits".
He says, "You've got to press on". The culture is going south. You can't go south with it, but neither can you stay still. You must press on because if you don't, it's going to be destructive to you, your family, your children. If you become a passive Christian, if you become a saint that simply throws up their hand and says, "Well, what will be, will be". It's going to grab you, and it's going to snatch you south. And that means that there must be a decision, and that must be a decision to press on because, verse one, if you don't press, verse three, God won't permit.
So, if you want God to permit, verse three, you better press. Many people want to see God do something when they do nothing. Many people want to see heaven do something when earth's not moving. God wants to see not merely your lips move, but your life move. He doesn't only want to see your mouth move, but your feet move. He wants to see the fact that you are pressing up the escalator of the culture in spite of the direction to which it is headed because you're going in a different direction. He's challenging them, he says, to press on to maturity.
Now he begins chapter six, verse one, with the word, therefore. Now, whenever you see the word "therefore" in the Bible, you must ask what it's there for. "Therefore" assumes that you have an understanding of what has preceded it. So, to understand what he's calling them to do in chapter six, we've got to back up for a moment to chapter five. He says in chapter five, verse eleven, "Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing". The Greek word "dull of hearing" means to be mule-headed. It means to be stubborn, that you're not paying attention, you're not tuned in to what God is saying, and you become mule-headed, and he's speaking to Christians.
In fact, some of these believers being written to in the book of Hebrews have been saved for 30 years. They've been redeemed for 30 years. But they're going south with the escalator because they've refused to press on. And as a result, the direction of the culture has become the direction of their lives. And we see this all around us, where Christians have adapted to the society, where Christians have refused to take their stand, where Christians have decided, "Well, this is the way things are". And to press forward, they've thrown up their hands. He says, "Concerning him, I have much to say, but I can't talk about it because you won't grab it if I do".
Now, the "him" he's talking about is a priest called Melchizedek. He wants to tell them about the Melchizedekian priesthood. He says, because this guy, Melchizedek, who Jesus is after the order, or in the line of, Melchizedek, in order to appreciate Jesus, I would like to tell you about Melchizedek, but I can't tell you about Melchizedek so you can more appreciate Jesus because you are too hard-headed to receive it, because if you weren't as hard-headed as you are, and I could tell you about Melchizedek, you would more appreciate Jesus in the Christian life you're now living to motivate you to press on. So, I'm going to assume you're not dull-headed. And therefore, I'm going to say what he didn't say to the folks who were dull-headed because there are no dull-headed saints at Gateway Church. So, he says, "Concerning him, I have much to say..."
Now, Melchizedek, we find in Genesis, chapter 14. Abraham has been in a battle, and he's been in a battle to save his relative Lot's life and family and business. Abraham has been in a war, and he has been beaten and bruised and tired because of the battle he's faced. On his way back from the battle, he runs into a priest who's also a king called Melchizedek. Melchizedek gives Abraham bread and wine. You would call it today what we just did: communion. He gives him bread and wine to refresh him for the battle he's just come from. Melchizedek is a priest, so he is an emissary between, a mediator, between earth and heaven, man and God, but he's also the king of Salem, peace, so that he is to bring calm in the midst of the chaos that Abraham has just come from, because Abraham has just come from a war. But you have to understand, Abraham not only is coming from a war, he's headed to a war, because in the next few verses, Abraham is going to face the king of Sodom, and the king of Sodom is going to try to bring destruction to Abraham.
So, follow this. Abraham is coming from a battle. Abraham is going to a battle. Between the battle he's coming from and the battle he's going to, he meets a person called Melchizedek who provides him the sustenance to recover from what he's come from and the strength to be revved up for what he's going to. When you've come here this weekend, particularly having taken communion, some of you are coming from a battle. You're coming from what's happened this past week. You're coming from the stresses and the struggles, whether they were at work or at home or in the community or within your own self, your own personal struggles, and you are going to face something new that you don't even know what it is in the battles you're yet to face.
Jesus is after the order of Melchizedek. What Melchizedek did for Abraham in Genesis 14, Jesus does for believers today because Jesus is the King and the Priest for believers today like Melchizedek was for Abraham. He says, if you really knew how to take advantage of Jesus, then you won't let last week mow you down, and you won't let what you don't even know is coming have victory over you because you're going to get some strength from your personal high priest who's going to enable you to recover from last week and have victory over an unknown week to come. He says, but you won't be able to benefit from it, you won't be able to experience it unless you press on to maturity. He then goes on and explains what he means. He says, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers..."
It takes approximately five years for a Christian who's a baby to become a mature Christian who's mature. It takes about five years. How do I know that? Because Paul went to Corinth in 50 A.D. He wrote the Corinthians back in 55 A.D. Five years. But when he wrote them back in 1 Corinthians 3, he tells them that by this time you should no longer be babies, but you should have grown up to spiritual adulthood by this time. And it was a five-year period of time. Why is it that some Christians can mature in five years, and like in the book of Hebrews, some don't mature in 30 years? It's very simple. Rate multiplied by time determines distance. Our church in Oak Cliff is located about 11 miles from downtown Dallas. If you started walking, it's going to take you a few hours to walk that 11 miles from where we are to downtown Dallas.
Now, if you happen to be riding a bicycle and you start at the same time somebody else starts who is walking, you're going to get there faster because your rate of speed is faster even though you're headed toward the same place. If you happen to be on a motorcycle, you're going to get there faster than the walker or the bicycle rider because your rate of speed is moving faster. If you are in a jet, you're going to get there faster than the one walking or the one on the bike or the one on the motorcycle because your rate of speed is faster. It is rate multiplied by time that determines the distance that you cover.
So, if you don't press, or if you press a little bit rather than skipping some steps to get to the top, will determine how quickly you move to maturity. He says, "By this time you ought to be mature". He goes on to say, but instead, "you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God," verse twelve says, "and you have come to need milk and not solid food". He makes the distinction that if you can't mature somebody else spiritually, you're not yet mature because by this time you ought to be a teacher. So, one of the ways you know whether you are maturing and have become mature is that you can turn around and bring your children or your mate or somebody in your circle of influence or other church members along the road to maturity. He said, "But not only are you not mature, you need to go back to elementary school". He uses elementary in this passage. We saw he used it in chapter six.
Now, what is the benefit of elementary school? See, elementary school is easy. Nap time, snack time, no homework, and you're beginning to lay the foundation for life. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P. You're given the alphabet, but the purpose of the alphabet is to be able to formulate words. And the purpose of words is so you can now develop clauses. And having developed clauses, you can now make sentences. And now that you can make sentences, you can construct paragraphs. And now that you can construct paragraphs, you can now do pages. And once you do pages, you can write books. In other words, the whole purpose of the alphabet is not the alphabet. The purpose of the alphabet is to prepare you to do so much more. He says, "Because you are not doing so much more, it shows me you haven't even learned the spiritual alphabet yet. You're still baby Christians, and you have need for milk and not salad food".
What's the difference? We'll explain in a moment. He says, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness," verse 13, "for he is an infant". He says, "The difference between a pressing-on, meat-Christian and a static or declining milk-Christian is not the knowledge of the Word that they have or don't have; it is the use or non-use of the Word. It is your use of the Word and not merely your knowledge of the Word that determines the rate of your maturity and your ability to handle what life throws your way in the escalator of culture that is headed down". If the Word is not applied, you will discover that the Word is not working for you, not because the Word doesn't work, it's just not working for you because it's gone unused.
Now, in the African American community, growing up, we used to have a hairstyle, some still wear it today. It's called jerry curls. And African Americans would get their hair jerry curled. Now, it's a lot of work to do a jerry curl. I used to wear a jerry curl back in the day, and you got to go, you get these chemicals put in your hair. You got to get rollers put in your hair. They dry your hair, and they build in this chemical curl in your hair, and it's called jerry curl. The problem with jerry curls is that they would dry out on you. So, when it dry out, your hair wasn't looking too good. So, whenever you got a jerry curl, you had to go to the store and buy curl activator. So, when you bought the curl activator, you sprayed the curl activator all over your head, you rubbed it in, and bam, the curl jumped back out, and you got your curl back.
Now, the chemical was already in there, but you needed the activator to bring it to life. You can know the Word, memorize the Word, quote the Word, but it's only when you use it that it, bam, gets activated. He says, "I want to activate the Word". And without its activation, you will still be a milk-Christian. You may be a milk-Christian with a lot of information. You may have gone to Bible study, small group, and all of that, but you will not be a transformed person, and you will not be able to handle the ups and downs of a declining society, you won't be able to keep your family intact when other families are fraying, you won't be able to keep your mind intact when other people are losing theirs, you won't be able to keep your standards intact when other people are compromising with the increasingly decadent standards of the culture because you have not used the Word enough to see it being activated in your experience.
It reminds me of the story of the mouse on the farm who went to the chicken, the pig and the cow, and the mouse told the chicken, the pig, and the cow, "I just thought y'all want to know that Farmer Brown just bought a mousetrap. I just thought y'all might want to know Farmer Brown just bought a mouse trap". Well, the chicken, the pig and the cow said, "That's your problem. You the mouse, so we don't even need you to tell us that Farmer Brown just bought a mousetrap". Mouse said, "I just thought you might want to know farmer Brown just bought a mousetrap. You need to know that". They said, "Well, that has nothing to do with us". One day, there was a poisonous snake that went across the mousetrap and got caught in the mousetrap. Farmer Brown's wife didn't see it and was walking by the mousetrap, and the snake bit Farmer Brown's wife. Farmer Brown's wife now has poison going through her body, and she's not feeling well. She's laying down in bed.
Farmer Brown decides his wife needs chicken soup. So, he goes and gets the chicken so he can make some chicken soup for his wife who's got poison going through the body. But Farmer Brown's got to go to work every day. He's got to do the farm. He's got to take care of the crop. So, Farmer Brown gets some people to come watch his wife while he's working. He's got to feed these people. He decides to give them ham sandwiches. So, Farmer Brown goes, gets the pig so he can get the ham to feed the folks who are taking care of his wife. But unfortunately, Farmer Brown's wife dies. They have this big funeral. He's got to feed all the people at the funeral. He needs some meat. He goes to the cow. He slices up the cow so that the cow can provide the meat for all the folks coming to the funeral. The mouse said, "I tried to tell them Farmer Brown had a mouse trap".
See, when you don't pay attention to the Word, it has repercussions down the line that you don't see when difficult days come. So, he says, a milk-Christian doesn't become a meat-Christian until the Word of God gets used. If we were to put a magic wand over this congregation and your spiritual age was manifested in your physical look, how many would still be wearing diapers. What he says is, "It's not how long you've been a Christian. It is how much you have utilized the Word that determines the scope, the level of maturity, and the engagement of your great High Priest". "Concerning him I have much to say". And how Jesus interfaces with us as we go through the battles of life and culture. In every direction you're looking now, the culture is going down.
One of two things is happening. We're on the precipice of the return of Jesus Christ. And if that's happening, we don't control that, and we, as believers in Christ, become the eternal beneficiaries. On the other hand, maybe it's not the return of Christ. Maybe we're being set up by the decline for a revival, for a renewal, for a return of God into a decadent society. But either way, we need to be prepared, and we can't join those who are going down the escalator, even if you're the only one climbing up the escalator. Press on! Tell your children. "Press on"! The Church of Jesus Christ has to press on. He says, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil".
The difference between a milk-Christian and a meat-Christian is not merely their knowledge of Scripture, but their spiritual discernment, he says. They're able to pick up heaven signals for earth's activities. In other words, they operate not merely on five senses; they operate on the sixth sense. Every believer has been given a sixth sense. If you have DirecTV, you have a receiver. That receiver is designed to pick up programming that's coming from a satellite. You don't see the satellite because that's up there in space. You see the receiver. Every Christian has a receiver, the ability to pick up on earth what is coming from programming up in the sky. If your receiver is off, it doesn't mean you don't have capacity. It means you're not set up to receive it, even though your capacity exists.
Every believer has been given a sixth sense, an ability to perceive spiritual reality, to fill in directionally, the Bible calls it in 1 John, the "anointing", to be able to pick up heaven's signals for earth's decisions. If you know the Bible, but you can't apply it to specific decisions, it's because the receiver is off. You're not picking up what heaven wants to say. The job of the Holy Spirit, who is the Anointing One, is to give you the application of biblical truths to specific situations of earth's realities. It is the Holy Spirit's job to answer the question, what you should say, what you should do, how you should act, how you should react in light of what you're coming from, in light of what you're going to. He speaks into the specific situation to apply the Word because the Bible...
The Bible is like a rulebook for an NFL team. All 32 NFL teams have the same rulebook. The league has a rulebook for how the game of football is to be played. It is a nonnegotiable rulebook. It applies across the board. But all 32 teams have their individual playbooks. The playbooks are the personalized application for how they will operate within the rulebook. And that's going to not only vary from team to team, it will even vary from play to play. Because Dak Prescott, when he comes up to the line, will often notice shifts in the defense. So, he will call on the spot an audible. That audible means, "I'm changing it right now, even though the playbook, which is within the rulebook, said I was going to do something else, the shift is occurring so quickly in front of me, I have to adjust at the moment".
The Bible is God's rulebook. It applies across the board to everyone. But maturity allows you to have a playbook that even the Holy Spirit can audibl-ize when decisions have to be made in life's realities in the escalator of a culture going down. The Bible is like national news. It tells you what's happening broadly. But what the anointing does is give you local news. It tells you what's happening in your vicinity. What God wants to do with maturity is increase our ability to discern. These Christians were facing a difficult time. The culture was against them. If you haven't noticed, the culture is against us. If you hold true to the Word of God, if you hold true to an inerrant Scripture, if you hold true to a biblical standard, if you don't buy in to the wokeness of the culture, then it's not going to accept you. They've had to add extra security to me because of my life being threatened by people who hate the fact that we've taken a public stand against many of the crises in the culture.
We've had to deal with other things. But what they don't understand is I have a great High Priest, and He is the one who I look to. I don't care which way the culture is going. I belong to the Christ. But I got to press on. I can't stay still, and neither can you. In closing, look, because they only gave me 30 minutes, which is normally time for my introduction. But in Texas, we don't have basements in Texas. They don't build cellars or basements in Texas. One of the primary reasons is the rock. It's too expensive to build basements in Texas, so you'll rarely find a cellar or a basement in Texas. Not so in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, they will build a lot of cellars or basements because they have a particular challenge with tornadoes, a particular challenge with twisters that come through that corridor in Oklahoma. We get it a little bit in Texas, but not like Oklahoma. And so, they build a place to hide when the twisters of life come. They have a place they can run to when life is swirling around them.
Over the last few years, as many of you know, we've gone through twisters. Losing my wife and my father one month apart, having eight members of my family die within that year and a half. One month later, after my wife dies, Priscilla finds out she has cancer, and half of her left lung has to be removed. A couple of months later, her husband's mother dies. Six months later, her brother dies. On and on and on and on and on. We just funeralized, last week, two more of our family members. The tornadoes just keep on coming and coming and coming. If you don't press on, if I don't press on, then I will let what's happening around me discourage me, make me not want to keep going, not want to keep ministering, not want to go on. But we gathered our family around, and we said, "We have a High Priest. Jesus is our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. So, that when the twisters come, we're not going to quit, we're not going to throw in the towel. He that is in us is greater than he that's in the world"! So, don't give up! Don't quit! Don't throw in the towel! Greater is he that's in you than he that's in the world.
Father, I thank You that when the twisters of life come, we have a basement, we've got a cellar, we've got a place to hide. We've got a place to run to. We're going to fight forward in spite of an escalator going down because we have a great God. Thank You, Lord, that we can trust You when the skies get dark. We can trust You when the thunderstorms rage. We can trust You because You are our great High Priest. We thank You, Lord, in Jesus' name.
Thank you so much. Let me again say thank you because we have so many friends who supported our ministry, and if you want to find out all that we're doing across the nation, you can go on tonyevans.org. God has opened up some doors with political leaders calling us, the racial crisis, all that we're being hit with, all of that. So, if for no other reason, if you go there, find out what we're doing and pray for us as we try to take a stand for the kingdom of God. He is worthy for us to press on. God bless you.