We happily celebrate that there is freedom in Christ. Accordingly we delight to follow Paul’s direction to stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Gal.5:1). However, does this freedom mean that we can happily drive at 50 mph in an area with a 30 mph speed limit?
Before we became Christians we were in bondage. Satan held us captive (see 2 Tim. 2:26). Sin was working in our members and we were utterly unable to live God pleasing lives. But now in Christ that bondage has been broken and we are now free, not to please ourselves (God forbid), but to please God.
One aspect whereby we bring pleasure to God is our attitude to those in authority. Paul gives us the general exhortation to Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). Peter goes further and fleshes out some of the implications of this statement when he says submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:12a). Notice the “every” here. It is not just the ordinances which we like that we have to submit to, but “every” ordinance.
Our God then, delights in our obeying the commands of “the powers that be”. So, the question comes, should we stick to the speed limits? Yes we should because they are one aspect of the ordinances of man. Of course, speed limits are only one rule amongst a vast number of rules and regulations which pertain in the society in which we live and we should be careful not to contravene any of these ordinances.
But what do we do when the law of the land commands us to act contrary to God’s Word? Very regrettably this is a development which is likely to become more and more common if the powers that be continue in their ways which are set against truth of God. So what are we to do? Very simply we must agree with Peter and the other apostles and say We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29b). So if we are told to stop saying that Jesus is the LORD and He is the only way to God then we must resist and choose to obey God rather than men.
Let us exercise great care here though, because the “every” in 1 Pet 2:12, as stated above, means that it is only as a last resort that we say we have to defy the rules of men. If it stands as a law of the land we as a general rule must seek to obey it and in so doing we honour our God.
However, there are also times when there is a collision between the laws of God. For example what do you do if your child has fallen and gashed their leg and blood is oozing from the wound. The ambulance will take too long to get to you and you must get him/her to hospital as soon as possible. What do you do? I suggest the law of love in Christ says you must go as fast as you can as safely as you can. To keep to the speed limit and risk the welfare of your child appears to be appalling.
To look for scriptural warrant for this approach we can go to the experience of our LORD Himself walking through the grain fields with His disciples in Luke 6:1-5. Here we learn how necessity over-rides the command of the law. Let us see what happened. The disciples were being condemned by the Pharisees for plucking heads of grain on the sabbath. At this the LORD exhorts the Pharisees to remember what happened in 1 Sam. 21:1-9. Here David and his men were hungry and in their need contravened the law of God that dictated that the showbread was only meant for the priests (see Lev. 24:8-9).
The incident of David and the showbread teaches us that when two laws of God collide then the law of necessity takes precedence. The father with a child oozing blood from his/her leg must get that child to the hospital a.s.a.p..
However the LORD’S use of this example in Luke 6:1-5 is done very carefully and we should take heed to this subtlety. The Lord recounts what David and his men did, but never specifically commends what they did. This again leads us to consider that the “every” of 1 Pet. 2:12 is very important. We only depart from obeying the ordinances bearing upon us when necessity dictates. We do not flout the rules and regulations of the land for convenience sake.
Finally, let us remember to have the right perspective in these things. We should not grudgingly obey the rules and regulations of the state. Rather we should take delight in the fact that, in this context, obeying the rules of man leads us to glorify God. And as the old catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of November 2006)