A.A.'s Principle of Service

Dick B.

A.A.'s Principle of Service

Alcoholics Anonymous History
A.A.'s Principle of Service

Dr. Bob’s Thoughts

A.A.’s co-founder Dr. Bob didn’t write the Twelve Steps. In fact, he emphatically stated that he had nothing to do with the writing of them. But he did say that AAs already had the basic ideas. They got them from their study of the Good Book, he said.

The last time Bill Wilson ever saw Dr. Bob was shortly before Bob’s death. As Bill left Bob’s home at 855 Ardmore in Akron, Bob stood in the doorway. Bob had a broad smile on his face as he said almost jokingly, “Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 343)

Prior to that last visit with Bill, Bob had given his farewell speech at A.A.’s First International Convention, in Cleveland. Characteristically, and with particular brevity, Dr. Bob made the following statements in his closing remarks (DR. BOB, supra, p. 338):

There are two or three things that flashed into my mind on which it would be fitting to lay a little emphasis. One is the simplicity of our program. Let’s not louse it all up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind, but have very little to do with our actual A.A. work. Our Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last resolve themselves into the words “love” and “service.” We understand what love is, and we understand what service is. So let’s bear those two things in mind.

Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance. 

And one more thing. None of us would be here today if somebody hadn’t taken time to explain things to us, to give us a little pat on the back, to take us to a meeting or two, to do numerous little kind and thoughtful acts in our behalf. So let us never get such a degree of smug complacency that we’re not willing to extend, or attempt to extend, to our less fortunate brothers that help which has been so beneficial to us.

Notice that Dr. Bob said he believed that the Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words “love” and “service.” We understand what love is, he said, and we understand what service is. So let’s bear those two things in mind. This phrase “love and service” was one commonly used in the United Christian Endeavor Movement to which Dr. Bob belonged in his youth. And Dr. Bob went on to say, “We all know what service is.”
Do we really know what service is?

In a previous article, we asked and discussed the same question with reference to “what love is.” And the same points can and should be made in asking if we really know “what service is.”

First, as to how Dr. Bob would have replied.

Whenever he was asked a question about the A.A. program, Dr. Bob would usually respond: “What does it say in the Good Book?” And, of course, the Bible had much to say about service, just as it did about love. Less perhaps than about service, except that service clearly involved service with love. And some of the most important Bible verses having to do with service could be found in the three parts of the Bible that Dr. Bob and the pioneers considered absolutely essential – the Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13.

The Book of James

Let’s look first at the Book of James, which AAs said was their favorite (And I believe you will see quickly where Dr. Bob was coming from):

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:26-27)

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9)

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food. And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:14-16)

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:14-17) 

Speak not evil one of another, brethren (James 4:11)

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience (James 5:9-10)

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16)

How do you serve? James provides the guides of which Bob was, in part, speaking. Bob mentioned James with great frequency.

The Sermon on the Mount

In Matthew, Chapter Five, Jesus taught:

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7)

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. . . (Matthew 5:22)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you (Matthew 5:43-44)

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 6:1)

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14)

Lay up not for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-20).

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Matthew 7:1-2)

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you (Matthew 7:6)

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12)

How do you serve? The foregoing and other verses from the Sermon on the Mount explain how you approach the matter of serving with the love of God in your heart and in obedience to His commandments.

1 Corinthians 13

Paul had these things to say in his famous chapter on the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. Rejoiceth not in inquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, enduring all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love] (1 Corinthians 13:13)

How do you serve? Is it any wonder that Dr. Bob would usually ask: What does it say in the Good Book. You could make a hundred talks on service and never hold a candle to what the Good Book tells you. 

How DO you serve?

I’m reluctant even to summarize. I’d rather by far do what Dr. Bob did and would have done – point to what is said in the Word of God—the Good Book, as he called it.

But is it not clear that, according to instructions in James, that you serve without respect of persons; you serve with love; you serve without partiality or envy or grudges; and you serve by praying for the afflicted? 

Is it not clear from the Sermon on the Mount that you serve with mercy, with forgiveness, without anger, without hypocrisy—and serve even your enemies who persecute you? That you are not judgmental; that you do not waste efforts on swine who will simply trample on you. That you move forward in the vein that you will act as you would have others act toward you—the basic precept of the Golden Rule?

Is it not clear from Corinthians that the bottom line is not “faith with works;” and therefore from James that service is based on loving thy neighbor as thyself; from from the Sermon that love and mercy are to accompany service toward the enemy as well as the brethren; and again from Corinthians that the words and deeds amount to nothing if not done with the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation.

That’s a tall order. Yet it’s the heart of A.A.’s beginnings. A.A. was not about “trusted servants.” It was not about working in “service.” It was not about meetings discussing service. It was about the principle of service as spelled out in all its grandeur in James, the Sermon, and Corinthians and underscored by Dr. Bob in his final simple words that echoed his training in United Christian Endeavor—love and service, the love and service defined in the Good Book, were the essence.

Are the servants the “big shots?”

Dr. Bob often like to comment on just exactly who were the servants? Were they the leaders the servants, or were they those leaders who were humble enough to serve. Bob, as usual, turned to the Good Book for the answer. And here is the portion to which Bob referred. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with a request. The two addressed their Master as follows:

Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory (Mark 10:37)

This ticked off the remaining ten who, when they heard it, “began to be much displeased with James and John.” But Jesus set the whole matter straight with this humility address:

Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister; And whosever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus taught:

But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi:for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:5-12)

And that’s the lesson Dr. Bob quoted when it came to the subject of who was to be the “boss.” There were no bosses. Leaders? Yes. Teachers? Yes. The bosses were servants—not the exalted leaders. And Dr. Bob seemed to believe that this lesson could be learned from the teachings of Jesus.

Even at the grave, Bob had set the tone of humble service. He said to Bill that he felt that the Smiths should be buried just like other folks with no elaborate tombstones or monuments. And so they were. In fact, if you visit the graveyard where Bill and Lois are buried in East Dorset, Vermont, the same simplicity in gravestones is evident.

See Dick B., The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials, 2005. There the love aspects of 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and the Book of James are fully and carefully reviewed (http://www.dickb.com/JamesClub.shtml)

Follow Dr. Bob’s Instructions to see what the Good Book says

To get a solid understanding of both A.A.’s principles of love and of service, and what Dr. Bob meant when he said, “We all know what service is,” follow his instructions. The ingredients of unselfish, kind, and loving service—service without ostentation and hypocrisy--are well defined in the Bible.


Copyright © Dick B.


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