The Bible says a good bit about the issues of wealth and property, and how we’re to understand the things we accumulate in this life. Most Christian studies on wealth tend to see it as something to manage, not something tied to a believer’s core. They usually focus simply on biblical passages that explicitly mention money. Though such prooftexts are helpful, they often miss larger themes threaded through Scripture that speak to how we ought to use the gifts God has given us.
For instance, any discussion of the Christian view of wealth ultimately revolves around the subject of stewardship. Stewardship gives us an invaluable category for pondering how we use property, particularly in how we understand ownership in light of the Creator/creature distinction. In light of a personal Creator, to what extent can we say we truly “own” anything?
These important questions tell us a lot about wealth. But they don’t tell us as much about ourselves.
God’s Word, however, addresses wealth’s more personal and existential implications. They’re expressed most clearly in what Jesus himself identifies as the “greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:36–37; Luke 10:26–27):
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your self and with all your strength. (Deut. 6:4–5)
This command is known as the “Shema” (pron. shə-MAH), the imperative Hebrew verb meaning “hear.” It’s a call to pay attention to what comes next. The Shema teaches that because God is uniquely singular and whole in nature, his followers should be whole in their love of him—a love that extends from heart to self and finally to strength.
In Hebrew, the word “heart” (Heb. lev) can often refer to one’s general cognitive and volitional capacities (e.g., 1 Kings 3:12; 2 Chron. 9:23; Prov. 16:23). Emotions, desires, and ideas will emit from one’s heart. In the Shema, then, we’re summoned to love God with the fullness of our thoughts, plans, desires, and emotions.
The word “self” (Heb. nefesh) speaks to the entirety of the person, the whole of the living person as a person. Like “heart,” this term can refer merely to the inward aspect—the feelings, conscience, or appetite. In Deuteronomy 6, however, “self” is distinct from “heart.”
The last word in the sequence, “strength” (Heb. meod), presents a bit of a dilemma. It’s rarely used as a noun in Scripture; in almost every other place, it occurs as the adverb “very,” but here it clearly has a different meaning. In several ancient Aramaic commentaries, the word is interpreted to mean “property” or “possessions.” And in the Septuagint and New Testament, the word is understood to mean “strength,” which includes personal property and influence. One’s strength lies in more than his physical prowess, but also in his property, estate, relationships, and capital. In light of these ancient interpretations, we can understand “strength” to mean “worldly effect,” a category encompassing every influence one has on the world around him.
These three categories—heart, self, and strength—together suggest a movement from the inner person to outer person, and finally to effect in the world. And this movement is precisely what we find in Deuteronomy 6. The summons to love God with the whole person (“heart, self, strength,” v. 5) is then practically applied to the inner person through memorization (v. 6), to the self through binding the Bible to the body (v. 8), and to the outward effect in the world—including one’s children, household, and property (vv. 7, 9).
The whole person is called to desire the Lord who is one. And such relational love must infiltrate the symbolic space of the self, just as the glory cloud filled the tabernacle and chased out whatever lingered (Exod. 40:34–35; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). Our love for God, then, should extend from our innermost being to our physical bodies, and to our possessions and impact in the world.
The Shema paints the picture of a life shaped by the wholeness of God’s character and directed toward a unified purpose. The workings of our heart, the activity of our bodies, and the use of our property are to be united by our love for our Lord. Such a life resists the fragmenting tendencies of our secular age in which busy schedules, varied demands, and the endless stimuli of information threaten to shatter us into irreconcilable parts.
God has revealed himself to humanity, and he has provided us with these spheres of human life—heart, self, strength—so that we might glorify him with all we are and all we have. “Where your treasure is,” Jesus observed, “there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21; Luke 12:34). I cannot think of a more clear exposition of Deuteronomy 6. Do you wonder where your heart is? Well, what do you do with your body? How about your wealth, your time, your relationships, your ideas?
These questions aren’t meant to arouse a sense of guilt, but they do provide a compelling diagnostic of your wholeness. Where do you subvert the wholeness God has called you to? Where do you preserve annexes of your own self-rule, your own idolatry? This diagnostic works regardless of how rich or poor you are. Everyone possesses something, even if only relationships and ideas. This isn’t about the degree of your wealth, in other words, but the purpose for which you employ it.
Your heart, your self, and your wealth are gifts from God. And they work best—indeed they flourish—when they’re synchronized toward the glory and enjoyment of God forever.