In 1985, the multi-platinum singer Whitney Houston proclaimed in her hit song Greatest Love of All that “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… Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.”
Self-love or self-ishness?
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3 that in these last days, people will be “lovers of self”, “proud, arrogant and abusive” and “swollen with conceit”. In my limited observation of child development, it is apparent that selfishness, the desire for self-pleasure and the tendency to abuse others who are weaker are traits in our children that do not have to be taught. On the contrary, it is the willingness to share their favourite toy, the grace to forgive a sibling who has trespassed, the ability to find joy in the preferred activity of their sibling rather than their own, that are the lessons we struggle to teach every day.
Make no mistake, it is not melancholy that we desire in our children. A child is selfish when they love their own good, rather than the good of others. Here, the problem lies in the place where love is found. Here, a child’s love for himself excludes others. The selfish person is deceived into thinking that happiness is found when he is personally excelling.
The character of love
Consider the parable of the prodigal son. Here we glimpse two characters in an examination of what love is according to Christ. The prodigal son demanded his share of wealth, lived recklessly and drove himself into poverty. When he returned home to his father seeking forgiveness, we observe that the love of the father is neither irritable nor resentful (1 Cor 13:5). Despite the trespasses of the son, which to many of us would amount to unforgivable sin, the father had no hesitation in showering the generosity of his love on his wayward son.
We may easily identify with the outrage of the elder brother, who was aghast at the ease at which forgiveness came for the prodigal son. After all, he had been the good son, hadn’t he? In the father’s response we see another characteristic of love. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6). “Son,” said the father, “it is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
A love that is an example
“Like father, like son” is typically used to blame a father for a son’s poor behaviour. Perhaps it is also a reminder for us that the best lessons in life are taught with our own lives. How easy it would be to impart the art of self-love by exemplifying it ourselves. But it is through the generous regard for our spouse, the consideration we have for our parents and the depth of investment we demonstrate in the wellbeing of others that our children may glimpse a measure of the love of Christ.
Philippians 2:3-8 outlines what the love of Christ is: a love that is costly and sacrificial, a love that disregards its own entitlement, a love that is showered on others unconditionally, a love that culminates in the forgiveness of trespasses and a restoration of relationship.
The greatest love of all
The greatest love of all cannot be learning to love ourselves — for most of us, that does not even need to be learned. On the other hand, the greatest love of all is the hardest lesson to teach, because it can only be found when we have learned to love others more than ourselves. This Father’s Day, the lesson I have learnt is that the lesson I am charged to teach to my children is not about the beauty they possess inside, nor about their sense of pride, but that the love of Christ is in the business of self-sacrifice and the giving of themselves.
This Father’s Day, let us honour all fathers and take encouragement from the word of God. There is no greater recognition of the life and work of a father than if a son should live righteously, having modelled his life after his father’s. 1 Kings 15:11: “And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done.” Have a blessed Father’s Day!
– Dr Lenith Cheng