“Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God who has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not for the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The word ‘competent’ in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians startled me. I looked at other translations, thinking that ‘competent’ might be a modern usage. My collection of modern Bibles all use ‘competent’ but the King James Version is “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 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.” There are many other places in the New Testament that the antithesis of letter and spirit are placed before us. I looked back at the psalm, where the poet states “I rejoice in following your statutes…. I meditate on your precepts…. I will not neglect your word.” The verses from Isaiah for this day include “I have revealed and saved and proclaimed — I and not some foreign god among you. ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.'”
The leap from law to spirit as the driver of one’s ministry is a huge chasm that is impossible without accepting that the courage, the strength doesn’t come from the law — authority — but from our acceptance that any competence (or sufficiency) we might have are of God, through Christ — humility. Paul reveals the new ministry of humility rather than the old way of authority.