In her 1985 song, "Greatest Love Of All,"1 Whitney Houston claimed that the greatest love of all was to love yourself: "Learning to love yourself. It is the greatest love of all." However, the Bible has a different idea about what is the greatest love.
According to Jesus, love that people give (to each other and to God) fulfils all the commandments of God.2 According to the Bible, the love of God is described as being great3 and almost beyond comprehension. God's love is compared to the height of the heavens above the earth4 and even beyond.5
The greatest human love
Jesus defined the greatest love from a human perspective, as recorded in the gospel of John:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Jesus Himself fulfilled this greatest love by dying for us so that we could be forgiven of all our sins and have fellowship with God:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)6
This example of the extreme love of God is to apply to those who follow Jesus Christ.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)
Laying down one's own life is not the message of the world, and would be considered from an evolutionary paradigm to be stupid. Even in other religions, the giving of one's life is not encouraged. As an employee of a Jewish hospital (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), I have had many opportunities to go to seminars about medical ethics and Judaism. For example, here is an example from Orthodox Judaism:
Two men are stranded in the desert. One man has water, while the other has none. There is enough water for one man to make it to safety. However, if they share the water, they will both die before they could get to safety. What does the man with the water do?
The rabbinical answer is that the man with the water should take the water to save his own life. Of course, the Christian answer is that the man with the water should give it to the other man and give up his own life. I discussed this specific example with my Jewish supervisor, who is married to a rabbinical scholar. Apparently, it made quite an impression, since the topic was discussed by the husband and wife, who reported their conversation back to me. When confronted with the differences between Judaism and Christianity, both thought that Christianity took the higher moral ground.
It is the love of God in Christ that allows His disciples to voluntarily give up their own lives for others. You, too, can experience this love and pass it on to others.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
1. Whitney Houston. 1985. Whitney Houston album. Words and Music by Michael Masser and Linda Creed.
2. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40)
3. Show the wonder of Your great love, You who save by your right hand those who take refuge in You from their foes. (Psalm 17:7)How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. (1 John 3:1)
4. For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 57:10)For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; (Psalm 103:11)
5. For great is Your love, higher than the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 108:4)
6. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)