Alcoholics Anonymous History
A.A.'s Principle of
By Dick B.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; firstname.lastname@example.org; 808 874 4876;