For Youth Workers Post

Trouble with the Law

Dixon Kinser

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for March 24–30, 2014.


“Sometimes Christians get a reputation for being a bunch goody-two-shoes types, who always do as they’re told. However, a long and storied tradition of Christians’ subverting and rebelling against the powers-that-be goes back to Jesus himself. So what does following Christ’s example mean for us today? How do we make decisions faithfully and theologically? This study aims to tackle questions of how we practice our faith. I pray it’s a blessing to you and the youth in your group.” —Cheers, Dixon



devozine Dixon Kinser


Dixon Kinser is a husband, father, speaker, author, musician, amateur filmmaker, and Episcopal priest. He works in youth and young adult ministry, loves to crossfit, and takes movies and TV way too seriously. Dixon lives with his family in Nashville, Tennessee.




  • Batman Begins (2006) DVD
  • TV and DVD player to show the movie
  • Bibles or printouts of the scripture passages
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session



Here are a few other resources to use as conversation starters for exploring law and Christianity:



Begin by inviting the group to reflect on a few of the following questions:
       Have you or has someone close to you been in trouble with the law? If so, when?
       What are the purposes of laws?
       Are religious laws the same as civic laws? Why? Why not?
       What is the theological purpose of laws? What are God’s purposes for laws?
       Is it OK to break the law? If so, when?

Invite everyone to say his or her name and to answer this question:
       When you were a kid, what rule in your house seemed to be the least fair?



Scripture: 1 Peter 2:13–17, Romans 13:1–4, Mark 2:23–28

[NOTE: Before the session, prepare for this Bible Study by reading “Theological Background Commentary on the Scripture” (below).]

Play a clip from Batman Begins, beginning at 31:26 and ending at 32:10. Then invite discussion:
       Bruce Wayne says, “The first time I had to steal so I wouldn’t starve, yes. I lost many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong.” Was it wrong for Bruce to steal? Why? Why not? What are the “assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong”?
       Batman is a character who operates outside the law. Is he a criminal? Why? Why not?
       What role do laws play in the administration of justice?

Invite people to form three groups. (If your group is small, invite everyone to work together.) Assign each group one of the scripture passages: 1 Peter 2:13–17, Romans 13:1–4, and Mark 2:23–28. Ask the members of each group to read their assigned text and then to summarize what it says about government, laws, and God. Also ask them to bring to the larger group one question they have about the text. 

1 Peter 2:13–17 (NRSV)
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Romans 13:1–4 (NRSV)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.

Mark 2:23–28 (NRSV)
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Theological Background Commentary on the Scripture

Help group members to see the difference between the verses in the first two passages (1 Peter and Romans) and what Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is making a theological pronouncement about God’s intention for the Sabbath. In this pronouncement, Jesus divulges that God’s intent for laws (like the Sabbath laws) is human flourishing, shalom, health. Keeping laws is not a way to earn God’s love or to prevent God’s punishment.

The teachings in 1 Peter and Romans are contextual, written to certain churches at certain times. The admonitions are practical. They will help the church to incarnate its mission effectively. In both 1 Peter and Romans, the authors have repeatedly made the case that Jesus—not the emperor or any other human king—is the true Messiah and Lord of all. Moreover, all kingdoms and governments are using power borrowed from God. As long as governments administer true justice and keep bullies from winning, the rich from exploiting the poor, and so on, they are part of God’s reign on earth. However, as soon as they turn away from God’s purposes, which they always do, they become part of the problem. God will use them because God is all about working with people, but no human kingdom is the kingdom of God and no government is God’s reign.

Consider exploring Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on this issue in Summa Theologica, question 66, “Of Theft and Robbery.” Aquinas says that it’s OK for the poor to steal to provide for their basic needs when not stealing would end their lives, which is not God’s justice.


After group members have studied the assigned passages, bring everyone together for discussion:
       What does your assigned scripture say about the relationship between God and laws?
       What question does your group have about the text?
       If Christians are loyal to Jesus above all other rulers or governments, when is following the law right for Christians?
       When is it right for Christians to break the law?
       How do you tell the difference?



Read aloud 1 Timothy 2:1–2 (NRSV):
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

Conclude the session by praying for the people who have responsibility for governance in your area. Start with local leaders and end with international leaders if you want. You may want to use one or more of the “Prayers for National Life” (below) from the Book of Common Prayer. Emphasize that as they pursue the Lord in prayer, Christians will know where Jesus is calling them to follow and to transgress the law.

For Our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

For Congress or a State Legislature
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress assembled (or in the Legislature of this State, or Common-wealth), that they may enact such laws as shall please thee, to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Courts of Justice
Almighty God, who sittest in the throne judging right: We humbly beseech thee to bless the courts of justice and the magistrates in all this land; and give unto them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth, and impartially administer the law in the fear of thee alone; through him who shall come to be our Judge, thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

For Sound Government
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
       Lord, keep this nation under your care.
To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
       Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
       Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.
       Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

For Local Government
Almighty God our heavenly Father, send down upon those who hold office in this State (Commonwealth, City, County, Town, ______) the spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice; that with steadfast purpose they may faithfully serve in their offices to promote the well-being of all people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



  • Consider your own posture toward laws and government, and give the article “Jesus and Paul Versus the Empire,” by John Dart (Christian Century, February 8, 2005) a read. Dart makes the case that much of the biblical story (including the Christmas story) is deeply subversive to the powers that be. How does that square with this week’s study? Do you tend to agree with the Christian witness of those who honored the government or those who subverted it? At what point do you think Christian rebellion goes too far?
  • Mull over the regime changes of the last five years. What is God doing in regard to governments and laws of our day?
—from devozine In the Habit (March/April 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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