These verses contain another contrasting choice that results in people either living by bankrupt human resources, or by bountiful heavenly ones. This contrast is "the ministry of death versus the ministry of life." These terms come from correlating four phrases: "the letter kills…the Spirit gives life…the ministry of death…the ministry of the Spirit." Of course, the old covenant of law is the "ministry of death," and the new covenant of grace is the "ministry of life" ("ministry of the Spirit…the Spirit gives life").
When people attempt to minister by the law, spiritual deadness results. Since the law sets forth a perfect standard, but offers no assistance, it "deadens" those who try to live by it. Only those who minister by grace can hold forth life to people, because grace alone provides the life that God intends for us to experience. Ministry is to be engaged in by individuals, families, and churches. Every ministry will either be characterized as a "ministry of death" or a "ministry of life." Contact with ministries either brings spiritual deadness to people, or it brings spiritual vitality.
What would people encounter if an individual, family, or church were a "ministry of death" (that is, a law-based ministry that left people relying upon their own sufficiency)? They might encounter judgmentalism or fleshly striving. They might find self-righteousness or self-confidence. They might discover hypocrisy or frustration. They might detect harshness or coldness.
Conversely, what would people encounter if an individual, family, or church were a "ministry of…life" (that is, a grace-oriented ministry that encouraged people to rely upon God's sufficiency)? Instead of judgmentalism and fleshly striving, they would encounter love and peace. Instead of self-righteousness and self-confidence, they would find humility and confidence in God. Instead of hypocrisy and frustration, they would discover genuineness and fulfillment. Instead of harshness and coldness, they would detect gentleness and warmth.
Our God is a God of life. God's loving plan of salvation was that the Son would die to bring us life. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). The Lord has life for us, and He wants us to minister life to others.