The song is titled, The Greatest Love Of All, written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed. It is widely heard as a ballad of self-empowerment, and encouragement to empower the next generation. But the lyrics tell a deeper story of self…
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
And if by chance, that special place
That you've been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love
There is some good advice in there. But the problem is that the good advice is mixed in with some lousy philosophy. Along the way we are told to believe that we have greatness inside of us. We are encouraged to see children with outstanding possibilities. We are discouraged from letting others hold us back. These are nice, and even good things.
But the overarching theme of the song… the underline of the song is, “Loving yourself is the greatest power.” It is basically a humanistic anthem, born out of the 1960s and 70s. The idea is that the singer has never found anyone who will fulfill their needs, so they turn to depend on their own self. It is in this self-love that they find their greatest fulfillment and strength. The song received great acclaim in the popular culture, and won Whitney Houston multiple awards. It also won the girl at the fair second place in the talent show.
But Whitney Houston was the second artist to make the song famous. And even as she was climbing the charts with the hit, one critic reflected, "We had laughed at that song during the seventies as a mawkish ode to self-involvement, not dreaming it would ever be taken seriously. But last year we laughed again—nervously—because Houston seemed to be using it as a theme song for her own aggressive ambition." – Armond White
I suppose part of the sadness in hearing this song comes from knowing the tragic life circumstances that led to Houston’s ultimate death. She grew up in the church, but eventually found trouble in the world of fame. She was a true superstar with unbelievable talent. In 2009, Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female act of all time. But drugs and bad relationships led her from a fairy tale dream to a freakish nightmare, being found dead in her bathtub, drowning with cocaine use listed by the coroner as a contributing factor.
Beyond this, Houston, the woman who made popular a song about the self-empowerment of children had a daughter of her own (Bobbi Kristina) who quickly followed the same tragic path through bad relationships, rumored drug use, and eventually drowning in a bathtub. She perished at the age of 22, after a 6-month medically induced coma following the bathtub incident.
The point is not that we shouldn’t love ourselves. At one point in Jesus’ ministry this exchange took place…
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all?”
“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question Him any longer. (Mark 12:28-34)
Loving yourself is good, and even important in context. We measure our love for others by our love for ourselves. But loving yourself is not the greatest thing, as songwriters Masser and Creed suggest. You cannot find all you need in loving yourself. You can only take you so far. Eventually you will find that you are no more dependable as a source of strength and hope than those others who let you down. No. Loving yourself is important, but not the greatest pursuit or place. The greatest love is loving God with everything you have. He is always faithful. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift in your life. He gives power and purpose. He will love you even when you are unlovable. He is genuine. He is your strength and the One who lifts you up. He fulfills your desire. He scatters loneliness. He is the greatest.
So what do we do with a song that has a beautiful tune, a nice if misguided sentiment, but a horrible theme? Where do we send children to learn that there is great potential in them? I don’t know how you do that. But let me share another song with you this morning. It is a song I learned in elementary school. It has never won any awards. But it holds great truth…
I am a promise, I am a possibility, I am a promise with a capital "P"
I am a great big bundle of potentiality
And I am learning to hear God's voice, and I am trying to make the right choice
I'm a promise to be, anything God wants me to be
I can go anywhere that He wants me to go, I can be anything that He wants me to be
I can climb the high mountain, I can cross the wide sea, I'm a great big promise, you see
I'll keep on listing to hear God's voice, And I'll keep trying to make the right choice
I'm a promise to be, anything God wants, you're a promise to be, anything God wants
We're a promise to be anything He wants us to be!
Bill and Gloria Gaither
You can find a video version of this song on the internet. I’m sure some would make fun of the lyrics and the music. It isn’t as culturally inspiring as Whitney Houston’s famous anthem. But it is more true than “The Greatest Love Of All”. Because this song actually points to the greatest truth of all. The greatest love of all is loving God with every part of your life and trusting that He will use you to do great things in His kingdom.
Can you see the difference in which direction the ‘love arrow’ is pointing in these songs? In the first song it is pointing towards us. In the second it is pointing towards God. Both speak of personal potential and the value of children. But one finds success in who we are, while the other finds success in who God is in us. The former values your dreams by what you want to achieve. The latter gauges your dreams by what God can achieve through you. These may seem like small differences, but they are not. They are enormous, with eternal value.
Today you get to choose who or what you will love most. Choose well. Loving yourself in proper perspective is good. Loving yourself as the greatest love is wrong and will lead you to a bad place. Loving God more than anything else will always result in the things you really want in life. Choose to love and believe in the right things.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.