God’s greater love transforms rather than validates us. It empowers us to lay down self and move to deep intimacy and friendship with Him and see His glory.
So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:11)
One of the most exciting things about intimacy with God is its dynamic nature. Contrary to the narrow view of the world which sees it as stifling and restrictive, it is ever-present, a vital living relationship. We can know with absolute certainty that His love is beyond measure. But there is a powerful practical outworking to the truth of ‘greater love’ than we normally consider. Today’s verse encapsulates this beautifully in the responses of Moses and Joshua.
The greater love that brings salvation.
This is face-value greater love with which we’re all familiar. It’s Agape love, of laying down life itself, and defines the overwhelming extent of God’s love for the world. Jesus is the living witness to just how much God loves humanity. It is with a greater love than we can ever possibly even imagine, let alone understand. It is also the kind of love we’re told to aspire to in our Christian walk as imitators of Jesus. God’s love has a particular outworking. It brings salvation to those who confess, repent, and turn to Him in faith.
But salvation, like the greater love of God, is not a static thing. We are ‘continually saved’ as we journey through life. Every time we sin, turn to Him, and are forgiven, we are ‘saved.’ Salvation is both once and for all and ongoing. A wonderful type of salvation is, of course, the ark. Noah and his family were saved by stepping into the ark which foreshadows Christ. But they continued to be saved by remaining in the ark through the stormy deluge. In the same way, we continue being saved as we remain in Christ through our storms. Salvation is the beginning of ongoing relationship.
God’s greater love never changes.
It’s important to take hold of this. The Bible tells us that God is love. He is the perfect, Agape, greater love. It’s not simply something He ‘feels’ but who and what He is. At the same time, His love never ‘cancels out’ all the other aspects of His nature and character. Mercy, judgement, grace, provision…all these things remain alongside love when ‘defining’ God in our limited understanding. Just as God Himself never changes, so His love never changes. God cannot alter who and what He is.
At the same time, however, His greater love is far bigger than simply our salvation experience. We can never fully grasp or understand the nature or magnitude of it. What we know and see today isn’t the same as what we know and see tomorrow. Our Christian walk is a daily journey of discovery of the length, breadth, height, and width of the greater love of God. But it’s not His love that is changing. It’s our knowledge of it and response to it.
Greater love in the lives of believers.
In today’s verse, we see two men whose lives unfold before us. Both are men of God. They both commit their lives to following and worshiping God. They provide wonderful examples of dedication and obedience. Their relationships provide insight in how the greater love of God works in the lives of believers. It’s true, because we’re all created as individuals, that our relationships with God are uniquely ours. He interacts with us where we are at any given time.
This, however, isn’t the difference highlighted between Moses and Joshua. What we see is two different places in their relationship journey. We see an old man with ‘history’ and a young man just beginning. They provide a powerful comparison of a young and old believer. It’s not a question of age but of spiritual maturity. The difference lies in the relationship rather than their age. What is revealed is something can so easily overlook. God’s greater love continually unfolds, a dynamic and vital force in the lives of believers. It is revealed in the deeper worship, intimacy, friendship, and obedience we enjoy as we mature and learn more about who and what God is.
Our changing responses to God’s greater love.
It’s important that we never lose our ‘salvation awareness’ of God’s greater love. This is a beautiful truth, one to hold onto. It is the acceptance of a love that changes our lives – and continues to change them as we walk with Him. Marriage provides a good practical example of this. The wedding itself is the declaration of love, but the marriage still has to unfold. When that first love remains at the core of their relationship, it will remain strong and grow even stronger, deeper, and more intimate.
Joshua is like that new bridegroom. He’s totally committed, but is only beginning His relationship journey. He displays commitment and dedication and a single-mindedness in choosing God that provides an encouraging example. But He has yet to learn the intimacy of friendship that Moses enjoys. It is a level of greater love that is the practical outworking of time spent with God. The relationship Moses has with God gives Him a boldness to go out and meet with God one-on-one. It reflects the familiarity and assurance of a man who knows His God and responds without reservation.
The dimension of friendship in His greater love.
‘Friendship with God,’ is never something to be taken lightly. Much of the prevalent teaching on this diminishes God. It brings Him down to the level of our ‘pal’ or our ‘best bud.’ This presumption conveniently sets aside His holiness, power, majesty, and glory. It negates the need for humility, surrender, and obedience. The implication is that we meet God on ‘equal terms,’ which is utterly impossible. God may well meet us where we are, but it’s never on our level. If anything, He leans down to pull us up. His greater love led Him to lay down His life, not to ‘be like us’ but so that we can learn to be like Him.
That He allows us friendship is a blessing and a privilege. God does not love us so that we can be His BFF. He loves us because He loves us, despite who and what we are. It’s telling that the few men in the Bible defined as being a friend of God were those who walked with God – Enoch, Abraham, Moses. But they walked with Him. They went out. They didn’t sit back and expect God to continue to meet them at the same level as the day before. Their response brought them into a place of friendship where the greater love that transformed their lives found a different and deeper intimacy.
Why friendship in greater love is so precious.
I was blessed with a wonderful, caring husband who loved me without reservation. Though we only have a very short time together, our relationship taught me an important truth. Real, genuine, friendship is the glue of a marriage. The other things – the romance, the passion, the demonstrations of love – are all wonderful and should never be ignored. But a marriage that finds a place of friendship finds a whole new dimension. The famous Corinthians passage on love goes a long way towards defining the kind of ‘friendship love’ that is inherent in Agape love.
The reality is that real friendship needs no props or supports. It’s one-on-one and it’s intimate. Knowledge and understanding and the absence of personal expectation define it. Friendship isn’t about what we need to receive so much as about what we are able to give. It’s that familiar, comfortable something that allows two people to talk for hours about everything and anything. Or even to not talk at all but simply rejoice in each other’s presence. Friendship is a place beyond ordinary words. It is intimacy on a level so deep that it lifts us above the ordinary into the place of the extraordinary.
Greater love empowers our journey to friendship with God.
The dynamic, powerful working of God’s greater love is what draws us closer to Him. It stirs up a corresponding desire to see more, to know more, and to love more in return. Our relationship with God should always be a continual unfolding of the nature and power of God’s love. These changes are defined by our responses. If we love God today the same as we loved Him yesterday, we need to step back and re-evaluate. It means we’re not growing and nor is our relationship.
Spiritual maturity should bring deeper intimacy, which in turn brings greater love. They all work together. We start off like a young Joshua with the road stretching ahead before us. We’re new at this. We still need the comfort of familiarity, of structured expectations and interaction. But taking the first step out onto that road changes everything. As we step out into the greater love that God has to reveal to us, we step towards friendship with God. Like the men whom God called friend, we must be willing to step out and leave all behind to find our face-to-face place with God.
God’s greater love always reveals His glory.
Current teaching focuses a lot on what we get out of our relationship with God. The inference is that our ‘friendship’ is there for our benefit. While this is true on some level, because God is gracious and good, it’s still all about Him. Enoch walked with God and did not die but simply remained with Him. Abraham became the father of God’s people, Jew and Christian alike. Moses revealed the glory of God so powerfully in His face that the people hid from him. All these men were granted incredible privileges and honour when they pursued the deeper friendship level of God’s greater love.
But it also comes with a price. All of them were required, in one way or another, to leave their lives behind. God’s greater love is an ‘all your heart, soul, mind, strength’ kind of love. If we desire to have friendship with God, our love must be the same. God must become the single most important thing in our lives. We must be willing to go out, to leave behind, to climb the mountain and make the sacrifice. When we see His greater love at this level, we also see His glory as it really is. God hides nothing from His friends, but it’s on His level, not ours.
Greater love transforms rather than validates.
It’s much more comfortable to take hold of the presumption that God’s love is ‘unconditional,’ which means it’s a ‘just as we are’ kind of love. The truth is that there are conditions. This doesn’t mean we ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ it some way. He loves us whether we love Him or not. But the condition is transformation. He loves us despite the way we are. His love is the power to transform us rather than to validate us. It never says we should never change. The impetus is always for change, and if He loved us ‘just as we are,’ He wouldn’t devote Himself to transforming us.
Friendship with God is the place of a deep, transforming knowledge of His greater love. It’s powerfully intimate, the ‘destination’ He intends for every young Joshua poised at the beginning of the journey. Do we have the courage to go, to leave all behind, to climb the mountain, and to speak face to face with God? It’s a journey on which we become so entwined with God that we become inseparable.
Knowing God’s greater love means knowing ourselves.
In this place of intimacy, there is no room for pretensions. It’s a place where everything is stripped away. There are no excuses, no avoidances, and no place to hide. Only honesty, surrender, and obedience will suffice. We cannot know God’s greater love in full measure if we’re still focused on self. The rewards may be enormous and beyond our imaginings. But the road is one worship and setting aside all else for the sake of friendship with God. And, when we make that choice to pursue this greater love, He provides the grace we need to get there.
Lord of all, it humbles us that Your greater love is there to save and transform us. Forgive us if we have presumed on the notion of friendship with You. Stir up a desire for You in our hearts. Empower us with Your grace to step out and leave behind, and to climb that mountain as You reveal Yourself in our lives. Help us, Lord, to desire friendship with You, no matter what the cost, so that Your glory may be revealed.