It helps our spiritual growth in recovery to understand and apply the spiritual principles found in Alcoholics Anonymous. They were not invented by Bill Wilson or Doctor Bob but borrowed from other sources. They were principles that were embraced by members of The Oxford group, a movement often linked with early AA beginnings. The movement contributed to AA practices in several areas. Like AA they had no membership list and were comprised of people from all walks of life who practiced surrendering their will and life over to the care of God. Their common endeavor was to lead a spiritual life by attempting to do God’s Will and it was a primary purpose to carry the message so others could do the same. A newspaper account in 1933 described the movement as one man talking to another or one woman discussing her problems with another woman. This activity is familiar territory for one who is in Alcoholics Anonymous. The spiritual principles we practice today in AA and by individuals in the Oxford movement decades ago carry the same basic meaning and purpose.
The definition of a principle, as we practice it in AA, is a moral rule or belief that helps us appreciate what is right and wrong and that influences our actions through cognitive application of it. In simple terms, we practice moral principles to better our behavior. We try to do this purposely rather than as an afterthought, always reminding ourselves of the need to behave in accordance as to what is right and just. This action goes hand in hand with the practice of taking our own inventory. The aim is that the principles we apply will offset the self-centered nature we discovered through a moral inventory and as a result our defects will no longer contribute to our difficulties in life. We have discovered that we cannot think our way into good behavior but we can act our way into it through the practice of principles of right behavior. For those of us in recovery there is a major need to practice these principles since we understand that our shortcomings leads to slips. Moral principles are cleansing but are of little value if we have not surrendered to our need for such cleansing. It is likely that this “admit flaw and apply moral principles” process is not on most people’s needs list. It is not the path that most of humanity follows but I believe it was meant to be. The spiritual principles we find in AA can be traced back to over 2000 years ago when they were introduced to the world through the actions and teachings of God’s own son.
In the book by Robert E. Speer, The Principles of Jesus, the moral ideals of honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love were offered as the distilled, uncompromising and foundational moral principles taught by Jesus. Later these evolved to be known as the “Four Absolutes” which were embraced and put into practice by the Oxford movement and also in early Alcoholics Anonymous. These moral standards can be an excellent yardstick to measure our own behavior in the search for God’s Will. Although we claim progress rather than perfection in our program the idea of absolutes remove us from our own thinking and the susceptibility to self-justify. It leaves us no wiggle room. For example, if I measure my actions against yours I will always become the better because my own flaws, self-centered pride leading the list, will tell me so. Additionally, if you have a flaw it puts the measure against your flaw. It becomes a matter of my perception rather than a true measure of our behavior against an absolute standard. One cannot find argument with the perfection found in Christ. For believers, Christ provides a perfect model for us in understanding the real meaning of honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.
Here are some of the key points that Speer identified with respect to these principles.
- Jesus did not attempt to issue a code of laws to guide human conduct. He put men in possession of great moral principles which they would have to apply themselves.
- Jesus taught with points of application of principles to practice. He taught in this way in order to make people understand, and the illustrations He used were themselves such as to make some principle perfectly clear.
- These principles were absolute, the more boldly absolute because Jesus intentionally framed His teaching in direct opposition to the sarcastic method of the scribes. They explained the law by applying it to special cases and by quibbling and fine distinctions showed how far a man could go in violating the spirit of the command without violating its letter. Jesus explained by application also; only He chose sharp and exacting cases, and by declaring that the principle held in these showed that it held everywhere. He cut off escapes and pretexts, and taught that standards are standards.
- Men say: I think this course is right. My conscience does not reprove me. Therefore it is right for me. Nonsense. Jesus told His disciples that someday men would kill them conscientiously and for God’s sake. He pointed out that there is such a thing as moral color-blindness.
- Jesus was the teacher of absolute principles. He made no comparisons, no abatements for human lust or weakness. Perfection was His standard. He had attained it. He demanded it. We are to be His disciples in this. Right is to be right. Thinking it right or thinking it wrong does not make a thing right or wrong. It is right or wrong irrespective of our thought about it.
- Jesus set up an absolute standard of truth. Jesus did not make truthfulness (honesty) depend upon its profitableness or its loss. Men must be true and speak the truth regardless of consequences.
- Jesus set up an absolute standard of unselfishness. This was inherent in His own spirit. The incarnation was the great self-emptying exhibited on the cross. The kingdom with its service of God and man was to be above home, friends, comfort, and life. He made no room for reservations.
- Jesus set up an absolute standard of purity. He tolerated no uncleanness whatsoever. The inner chambers of imagery and desire must be pure.
- Jesus set up an absolute standard of love. Neither dirt, nor poverty, nor social inferiority, were annulments of the law of love. He Himself loved to the limit), and with no abatements. The law of love makes it impossible to say: I don’t like those people. I can’t love them.
We of course cannot achieve perfection in the practice of these principles. We can only strive to see the standards as a beacon on hill at which we aim for. It is the practice of principles that account for our growth in AA. But there is more. This is not the entire story. From Speer’s book we also find that the practicing of these principles is tied to achieving God’s will. There is a direct link. We may not know what God’s will is for any specific situation but we are as close to achieving it as we are close to applying the principles as were are walking through the situation. And the result of that is better outcomes and peace and serenity. According to Speer this was the preaching and practice of Jesus about the will of God. It (God’s will) delivered Him from all fear. Nothing can intimidate God’s will or the man who is set in it. It brought Him perfect steadiness of life and composure of heart. There is no fitfulness or vacillation in God’s will. And nothing could move the calm of His reposeful rest in the will of God. The will of God lifted Jesus above our feverish ways. It gave Him the power of God. God does His will through the man who does God’s will. As Jesus did the will of God, we are to do it. Each of us must come to our own understanding of the links between the absolutes, God’s will, and the peace and serenity we seek in AA.
Does it work for you?
Below is a link for the PDF of this work The Principles of Jesus so that you may uncover some nuggets of truth for yourself.