Podcast listener Ben writes in to ask, “Pastor John, very few people actually drive the speed limit, including Christians. Especially during rush hour on the way to work, it is socially acceptable to be 5–10 miles per hour over, and it just seems like unreasonable legalism to drive the limit when everyone else is safely driving faster — including the police! Is this a matter that merits repentance? Or is it simply a matter of conscience that I shouldn’t worry about?”
Okay, let’s start with the math facts. Suppose you have ten miles to drive to work. Suppose the speed limit is 55. If you drive the speed limit, you arrive in 10 minutes and 48 seconds. If you drive five miles an hour over the speed limit — 60 — you arrive in 10 minutes. If you drive ten miles an hour over the speed limit — 65 — you arrive in 9 minutes and 12 seconds.
So, if you drive five miles an hour over the speed limit, you add 48 seconds to your day at work. And if you drive ten miles an hour over the speed limit, you add 1 minute and 36 seconds to your day at work. And you can do the math — if you drive twenty miles to work or five miles to work or whatever it may be. So that is the first thing. Those are the math facts.
Second, let’s mention Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Now, there are a lot of possible exceptions to this rule. For example, when a ruler uses its power to do evil and not good against Romans 13, you might have warrant to rise up and be part of some kind of civil disobedience.
“Going over the speed limit is the exaltation of your preference over the law.”
But I have never heard anybody make a sufficient case that speed limits are an abuse of federal power or local power. That is, if anything, they have a right to help us all drive in ways that will get us safely across town. So the command, it seems to me, stands. Submit to the governing authorities. You see a speed limit sign? That is the word of God, because he said the authority is from God.
Third, let’s bring in humility. Going over the speed limit is the exaltation of your preference over the law. What is this called? It is called pride. That is what pride was in the garden — Eve’s preference over God’s law. That is what it has been called ever since. It is pure and simple. “I will do it my way, thank you very much. I think this is a stupid speed limit and so now I am God.”
God Controls Your Day
Fourth, let’s combine the math and the faith. And this is where, frankly, I struggle. And as little and as insignificant as this is on the moral scale of things compared with human trafficking, or poverty, or abortion, or same sex relations — whatever you may think — faith in God is a big thing everywhere that it is challenged.
So, on your way to work if you have ten miles on your way to work, you gain a minute and 16 seconds if you go over the speed limit. Ponder two things. There are a hundred ways that God can take that 1 minute and 16 seconds away from you. For all you know, he does that every single day. You think you get there when you want to get there, and he takes it away from you every day: someone arrives late for an appointment, the printer breaks down at work, the waitress takes someone else’s order first, you have to reboot your computer, someone puts you on hold at the bank for two minutes, etc. You don’t control your day. God controls your day, and he has taken minutes away from you all day long any time he wants for whatever reason he wants.
“Going the speed limit boils down to a simple childlike act of faith: Can God give you a more productive day than you can make on your own?”
Or imagine the other direction. There are hundreds of ways God can give you back 1 minute and 16 seconds every day and lots more. Just reverse those time stealers: People arrive on time; the printer doesn’t break down; the waitress is prompt; nobody puts you on hold; your computer works perfectly. All the things work together and you are added time, because God just is pleased to do it for you.
What that means is that going the speed limit boils down to a simple childlike act of faith: Can God give you a more productive day than you can make on your own? Can God put the pieces of your day together better than you can? Faith is the opposite of pride.
Life and Death
Next, let’s talk about the higher value of life and death. If I had my child in the back seat unable to breathe and turning blue, with no police or ambulance to help, I would run every red light and break the speed limit to get to the emergency room. Seconds may make the difference between life and death.
I think that is what Jesus was saying when he healed on the Sabbath. Speed limits were made for man, not man for speed limits. They are not absolute. But they were not made for man in the sense that every man can make his own. That is called anarchy and the root is pride and self-exaltation.
“God is perfectly able and willing to add two or ten or thirty minutes to your day.”
Now, if you really believe in your heart — and I am saying this to the person who asked the question — if you really believe in your heart, your well-informed mind and heart, that someone’s life is at stake by your driving 55 miles an hour in the right lane while everyone passes you, well, do what you have to do to save lives. I don’t believe it, frankly. I think it is a joke.
I think that is a rationalization just to do what we feel like doing. Someone will say, “I have to go 60; everybody is going 60. I am going to look like a jerk. People are going to toot at me. I am going to cause an accident here.” I don’t believe that. I just think that is just pure rationalization. That is what right lanes are for.
Joy, Not Legalism
Finally, let’s flush out the boogie man of legalism. I get so tired of this. When you preach the promises of God to yourself — like “My God will meet all my needs today, and he is sovereign over the minutes of my life” or “You are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31) — when you preach the promises of God to yourself, and you bask in the sovereign care of God over your life, and you preach to yourself that God is perfectly able and willing to add two or ten or thirty minutes to your day, and you rest in his love, then your choice to set the cruise control at 55 and enjoy Jesus all the way to work is not legalism!
It is called joy. It is called the joy of faith. It is what our hearts long for. I think those who throw up the boogie man of legalism are like little children who only hear Daddy say no and have not grown up to know what a life of faith really feels like.