Last week I helped my dad plant his garden. After working the ground with his roto-tiller I took out a very special tool. He has had this one tool for years, but it only gets used one week of the year. It is a single wheeled tool that makes a furrow to plant the sends in a row. It is not a tool that is used everyday but is very necessary toward the end goal of a growing healthy garden. I do not know what it is even called.
This got me thinking about tools. Not tools we use to plant a garden or even make a repair, but tools necessary to achieve the end goal of a growing spiritual life. These tools may not get used everyday, but they are important tools to the Christian life.
1. A good readable Bible – I suggest the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New International Version (NIV). The New American Standard (NAS) is a good translation but is not easily readable. The King James Versions is one of the oldest, but in my opinion, is the hardest to read. Personally, I like a Bible with no notes or “helps” anywhere in the margins. I like the plain straight forward word of God for my personal reading. What do I think it says?
2. A good study Bible – I use this for a better understanding of the passage I just read and it is especially helpful for teaching. I have an NIV study Bible, a Quest study Bible and a Life Application Bible that I use on a regular basis. These all contain footnotes and passage notes that help me to understand what is being said. I would remind you that these are not inspired and all study Bibles contain mistakes and personal interpretations that I do not agree with completely. Even with this said, these are enormously helpful tools to understand the Bible.
3. A concordance – This is a book that will tell you every passage in your English Bible that contains a particular word. Now, this must match your translation – like NIV, ESV, KJV or NAS. If it does you can look up a word like “lion” and see every passage that contains that word in the Bible.
4. Vines Bible Dictionary – This is a book that contains all the passages that mentions that word, but also categorizes them and will point you toward passages with a similar meaning even if they do not contain the same word. This is a great place to get a bigger picture of a Bible concept. Any Bible dictionary is a great tool.
5. A Bible Encyclopedia – This is an expanded look at concepts, people, places and events in the Bible. These are expensive if purchased in book form but came as a part of my Wordsearch computer program. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) is the best one that I have used.
6. A Bible Commentary – They sell these over individual books of the Bible clear to books that cover the whole Bible (like Haley’s Bible Handbook). These are the authors ideas and interpretations based on study and experience with the scriptures. I use these last in my study. Many are very good and others are extremely biased. Some of them are so technical in their study of the Greek and Hebrew that they leave me confused and others are not much more than study Bible notes in a book form. Inter Varsity Press (IVP) has a great small set and I also really like the College press set.
These are the basic tools I use to learn the Bible personally, to prepare lessons and sermons for preaching. Some of the I use exclusively in digital form. They are much cheaper and space savings to have them on my phone, computer or tablet. In recent years more and more of these tools are being made available online.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (NIV) I believe in order to correctly handle the Bible we need to be familiar with the best tools and know how to use them. Hopefully this will help you in some small way.