The Warfield Theater
November 1st, 1979
Rolling Stone Magazine
The new Bob Dylan tour began on a chilly Thursday evening at the Warfield Theater, a cozy 2200-seater in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Outside, grizzled panhandlers solicited; holdout hippies, whose cassette players blared “Gotta Serve Somebody,” tried to scavenge tickets; and dozens of porno theaters and sleazy topless joints advertised their wares in flickering neon. Inside, Dylan sang about salvation.
Regina Havis, one of his four backup singers, began the show with a sermonette on a mother’s faith. There were snide comments from the audience – “I went to church this morning,” “How about some sin?”
…Dylan looked much the same, in his dark jeans, leather jacket and white T-shirt, but he’s changed his way of thinking – that much, at least, is clear. The end of the concert was greeted with both applause and boos, but there were surprisingly few emotional outbursts. As the audience filed out quietly, they were confronted with the words “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody,” writ large across the back of the illuminated marquee.
Well, ol’ Bobby didn’t get a great response to his album which declared his (then) new-found faith. But the title of his song “Gotta’ Serve Somebody” has found its way into countless sermons on the text we’re going to read this week in Romans…because it is stating exactly what Paul will be stating, just with more electric guitars.
We’ll be reading Romans 6:15-23 in our study. Paul is in a section where he is describing what this new life in Christ is like, and in this passage he uses the uncomfortable illustration of slavery. The slavery of the ancient Roman world was quite different and far less inhumane than the slavery that our country engaged in in oppressing Black people. I think its possible that Paul would have used a different illustration if he could have seen through a modern lense…but that makes it incumbent upon us to use an ancient one.
Either way, it’s still an uncomfortable metaphor because no matter how we understand it, slavery, declaring ownership and control over another human being is just wrong and certainly not part of God’s plan for life. So why this metaphor?
Paul seems to see slavery from the standpoint of submission – submitting to a governing influence over life. That’s how we need to understand it. Paul’s whole point drives home the dualism in Biblical thought – we will serve good or evil, there is no third alternative.
Do you have difficulty with the idea that the Bible does not see you as autonomous? In what way can we understand being free, yet also describe ourselves as slaves to God?
in v19 Paul seems to indicate that who we serve will determine what kind of life we’re living. How has serving God reshaped your life for the better? In what ways have you seen your life spiral when serving some indulgence of this broken world?
The whole thing gets summed up in v 22-23 – one trajectory is leading to death, the other to eternal life. What do you understand eternal life to be, and when do you think it begins? How can eternal life be lived in this present world? What effect would it have on your relationships and expectations in life if eternity were factored into everything?