Not the Letter, But the Spirit

2 Corinthians 3: 6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

What strange words given by Paul to the Corinthians, or so it seems at first glance. We might better understand what Paul was saying if we recall the account about Rahab in Joshua 2: 1-24, which describes how she welcomed Israelite enemy spies into her home, and then hid them on the rooftop. Although she was a harlot, Rahab believed in the power of Israel’s God; and in effect, lied to the men sent by Jericho’s king when they asked the whereabouts of the two spies. The “letter of the law” behavior was that Rahab would have truthfully revealed that they were hiding not far away; the “spirit of the law” behavior was that she chose to lie in order to save their lives. Hebrews 11:31 honors what Rahab did as a great act of faith; and in James 2:25 she is again given the distinction of being mentioned in the Bible. So, how are we to deal with the fact that in protecting the spies, she deceived the men sent to find them?

Jesus Himself summed up the “whole of the law” (the spirit of the law) in this manner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 & 39). The letter of the law represents strict adherence to every aspect of it no matter what; and, the spirit of the law is concerned with loving the people that the law is meant to serve. We might be compelled to ask, “Should believers always blindly comply with the letter of the law or, instead, act according to the intent of the law?” I believe the answer lies in the Mt. 22 passage: let love be supreme in all that we do so that we are ultimately guided (through dependence on the Holy Spirit) to express the charity of God in every situation. Our guiding question will undoubtedly become, “Will this administer to this person the love that Christ has shown me?”