Love God and Love Your (Muslim) Neighbor

by Rick Love

Sixty one people gathered recently at the Mile High Vineyard in Arvada, Colorado to attend a Love Your Neighbor Dinner. Almost half of those attending were Muslims from the Abu Bakr Mosque in Denver. We gathered to share, to talk, and to break down barriers… by breaking bread together.

I opened this event by describing the massive peacemaking effort initiated by Muslims known as the Common Word. According to Muslim leaders all over the world, there is a Common Word between Christians and Muslims: We are to love the one true God and our neighbor as ourselves. What a great starting point for peacemaking!

Imam Karim and Pastor Jay Pathak then spoke for 15 minutes each on love of neighbor from an Islamic and Christian perspective, respectively. Next, we had a time of Q&A with Imam Karim, Pastor Jay and myself, and one of the questions stuck out to me. Ahmad asked, “Do all Christians around the world really believe that Love of God and Neighbor is that important?

I thought for sure Ahmad’s question was merely theological. He wanted to make nice, to talk about important sounding topics that never impact real lives. But after the Q&A Ahmad came up to me and wanted to talk more. So we went through the buffet line, talking and filling our plates with tasty Middle Eastern cuisine. When we sat down he leaned toward me and got serious.

“Rick,” he said, “I asked that question for practical reasons. My family has been warmly welcomed in our neighborhood. Our neighbors treat us well. But what bothers me is that one of our neighbors is a known for being a Christian, yet he is the least friendly of all our neighbors. That’s why I asked the question. My Christian neighbor does not love us. The non-believing neighbors make us feel more welcome.”

Wow! There are far too many Christians who minimize the main commands of Christ, especially when it comes to loving Muslims. What was this “Christian” neighbor thinking? Maybe that saying the sinner’s prayer or believing the right things about Jesus is enough. You know what Jesus’ brother would say to him?  

  • What good is it, Christian neighbor to Muslims, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? (James 2:14)
  • You – yes, I am talking to you Christian neighbor to Muslims – you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder (James 2:19).
  • Show me your faith apart from your works, Christian neighbor to Muslims, and I by my works will show you my faith (James 2:18).
  • But be doers of the word, Christian neighbor to Muslims, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves (James 1:22).

Why don’t we take the command to love our neighbor more seriously? Why do we often value doctrine over ethics, and creeds over deeds? Why do followers of Jesus often put greater emphasis on right belief about Christ (orthodoxy) than they do Christ-like living (orthopraxy)?

A fresh look at the love command in context should make us tremble. In Luke’s gospel a lawyer tests Jesus by asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus’ answer: obey the command to love God and neighbor and you will live (Luke 10:25-28). Not exactly the typical evangelical answer to that question. Jesus says our eternal destiny is linked with obedience to those two great commands!

The Gospel of Mark seems to confirm this. Jesus says that there are no other commandments greater than love of God and neighbor. When a religious leader affirms these truths, Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34). Note … he doesn’t say, "you have entered the kingdom." Understanding about the greatness of these commands merely puts you near the kingdom.

Love of neighbor is not one among many commands! It is the great command. The royal law (James 2:8).

  • All the commandments are summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Romans 13:9).
  • For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14).
  • Love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10).

Todd Johnson has said that “86% of the Muslims of the world have never met a true follower of Christ.” The Love Your Neighbor Dinner is an attempt to change that. It is also an attempt to help followers of Christ learn what it means to love the “other.” Ahmad met some true followers of Christ the other night. They demonstrated it by their love.