Greatest Love of All?
Valentine’s Day is next week. For some, it’s a day to celebrate love found. For others, it’s to renew their love. Still, for others, it’s a day of wondering when they will find someone special. Love is on everyone’s mind.
In her unforgettable song, “Greatest Love of All,” Whitney Houston sings, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Why? She never found anyone who fulfilled her deepest longing. She had to learn to love herself; after all, she lived with herself all the time and, if she did not love herself, she would be miserable no matter whom she was with.
This has become the ethos of today. Some attribute such thinking to the biblical command known as the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love others as oneself, one must learn to love oneself first, the logic goes. Is that what it means? No. This commandment presupposes that our self-love is instinctive: it’s as natural as our desire to live. We don’t need to be taught to love ourselves. Instead, we should try to love others as we love ourselves.
But do we know how best to love ourselves? Both hedonism and stoicism stem from self-love, as do masochism and sadism. What we do out of self-love can harm us, especially when we seek immediate gratification. We need to learn how best to love ourselves.
But what criteria do we use? When a mom doesn’t allow her preteen daughter to wear certain revealing clothes and another mom does, who is to say that one mom’s love is greater or better than the other’s?
Is the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”—the guide? But what if a perfectionist dad treats his children with his exacting, unforgiving demands because that’s what he expects of himself? When the Bible mentions the Golden Rule, it is not given in a vacuum; it is given within the system of God’s Law, which prescribed how to love others (e.g., the Ten Commandments).
Self-love may be the strongest love we have. That’s why we need the command to love our neighbor as ourselves; it serves as a corrective to our self-love, which can draw us to narcissism. No one wants to be married to someone who is constantly trying to love oneself more.
How different is Jesus’ teaching on the greatest love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)! This is the greatest love because it transcends even our most basic, visceral need for self-preservation! Do you have a friend who loves you like that? And are you that kind of friend to anyone?
In speaking of the greatest love, Jesus was not simply theorizing; He was talking about what He was about to do for our salvation. Paul describes the magnitude of Jesus’ love this way: “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Seeing this, can we say that learning to love oneself is the greatest love of all?
Why did Jesus give sinners the greatest love of all? Not because we deserved it but because we desperately needed it! Someone with a worse injury requires greater medical care. So great was our need that it required nothing less than the Son of God sacrificing His life.
This kind of love may not be what’s on your mind on Valentine’s Day. But even a beautiful, talented celebrity like Whitney Houston realized that no one could fulfill her need. She chose to turn inward. But can a person with a need that nobody can fill find fulfillment in herself? Our longing for companionship is legitimate and good. But it’s only an inkling of our deep longing for union with our Maker. This greatest love of all can be yours even now if you admit your desperate need for it as a sinner and believe in Jesus!