Question: 1 Peter 2:14 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” For years, as a preacher, I took that scripture literally but discovered people professing holiness, even some preachers, that believe there is nothing wrong in driving as fast as they desired. Am I missing something in the Word that allows us to decide whether we obey the law or not?
Thank you for your question. The answer is neither 1 Peter 2:14, Romans 13:1-6, nor any other scripture gives us permission to pick and choose which laws we will obey. Of course, we ought to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). But that is only when human law requires us to violate God’s law, and speed limit laws certainly do not qualify for this exemption.
Consider this: Both Peter and Paul wrote during the reign of Nero, a deranged, cruel, and wicked man who used Christians as torches to light his garden parties. Yet Paul states unqualifiedly that the powers that be are ordained of God (Rom. 13:1). He does not say ‘only good, godly rulers are ordained by God.’ He further states that since God ordains the powers that be, to resist those powers is to resist God (Rom. 13:2).
God has given those in authority the responsibility to reward good and punish evil. He will hold them accountable for their success or failure in that responsibility. However, even those who misuse their power were ordained by God.
If God ordained the powers, then to disobey them is to disobey God’s appointed minister and thus to disobey God (Rom. 13:4-5). That is why Paul concludes that we must obey the ‘laws of the land’ for conscience’ sake and not merely to avoid the law’s wrath or punishment (Rom. 13:5). Peter’s command is the same. We are to submit to the ordinance (better, authority structure) of men, for the Lord’s sake. Peter didn’t say we had to agree with the laws or even think them just.
Peter didn’t say we had to agree with the laws or even think them just.
Having said that, let me suggest that we need to understand both the spirit and the letter of our laws. The purpose (spirit) of speed limit laws is to promote safety. There are occasions when going 55mph, although the posted limit, is unsafe and one may be stopped for driving too fast for hazardous conditions.
By the same token, there may be times when going 55mph will cause a road hazard if the highway traffic is moving 15-20 miles faster. To go 55 may keep the letter but violate the purpose of the law. Yet, this exception cannot be legitimately used to argue “I can go any speed I want.” Or “I go whatever speed I know the police will allow.” We violate Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 when we break the laws of God-ordained authority.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.