I recently sat down and watched part of a movie called Happy Feet 2 with my son. I had never watched the first one in its entirety but knew enough to know the basic theme of the movies. Now, I confess up front that I do not know exactly how the movie ended, though I did ask my son later to give me a summary. I also want to point out that while the movie is cute and has some positive elements, the often subtle but sometimes blatant references to homosexuality, evolution, and even activist environmentalism will ensure it won’t become a household favorite for us.
The part where I picked up involved the main character, Mumble (a penguin), who displays his joy by tap dancing – which apparently is a bit unusual even for a penguin. Mumble had just discovered a large group of penguins who had been trapped after a huge chunk of ice broke off leaving them completely stranded, helpless and hopeless. Mumble and his son and son’s friends set out to rescue the trapped penguins and according to my son, eventually do save the group with the help of some other dancing penguins, which of course ties into the title. Happy Feet came to the rescue.
Several days later I happened to be thinking about something Paul says in Romans and these penguins came back to my mind. It may take a minute, but allow me to explain.
In Romans 1:14 the apostle Paul states “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (ESV). King James Version says it a bit different by using the phrase “I am debtor” instead of “under obligation.” Verse 15 follows up with “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” These verses prompted some questions. “Why do you feel such a deep indebtedness to seemingly everyone, Paul? I understand you were clearly called by Jesus himself to preach the Gospel, but you said you are in debt to people – why? Why does God’s calling upon your life make you feel like you owe something to Greeks and Barbarians and the wise and the foolish? What are you saying Paul?”
Having now had the opportunity to ponder it a bit, I offer the following. Paul was clearly called by God to preach the Gospel; but I don’t think that God’s command specifically to preach was creating this indebtedness. Paul was certainly going to be obedient to the call, but there is something else going on here as well. Earlier in verse 5, Paul gives what I see as the true reason and an answer to my questions. Read verses 1-5 to get the flow but pay attention to verse 5 in particular.
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations
It’s all about GRACE! God’s unconditional, saving, free, sovereign grace created in Paul the indebtedness he felt toward others. Here is how I would explain it. The force of God’s grace is what drove Paul his whole life. It carried him through beatings, shipwrecks, abandonment by friends, and imprisonment just for the opportunity to make good on this debt. God’s grace offered through Christ sustained him through the many, many trials in which he suffered. But here is the catch – Paul knew he didn’t deserve one single bit of this grace! He understood fully the ‘hugeness’ of receiving the FREE gift of grace. He looked at his life before Christ and saw nothing but hopelessness. He saw his diseased, sinful, depraved heart and knew that he had been given a new one. He saw his own death, but knew that he was now alive!
With that understanding, how could he look at a lost and hopeless world, full of Greeks and Barbarians and wise and foolish, and not feel obligated to offer the exact same hope he had? How could he not proclaim to anyone who would listen, the only means of rescue? He couldn’t and he didn’t. He felt the weight of God’s undeserved grace in his own life and was left with nothing else but “to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome” and Galatia and Ephesus and Thessalonica and Corinth and Philippi and on and on.
So where does that leave us and what about those penguins?
As I meditated on Paul’s indebtedness, I thought of Mumble again. Just as he stood looking out upon those who were completely helpless in and of themselves, who would DIE without rescue, my thoughts were blasted with the faces of those who I see every day – those who I know are lost without hope, apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Just as Mumble looked into the faces of fear and suffering as he stood on the firm footing of safe ice, I look into the same faces of fear and suffering all the while standing on the solid rock of salvation… and too often, far too often… I say NOTHING. I do NOTHING. I watch from a distance as the lost continue to trudge toward an inescapable death.
I know all Christians are not called to preach or teach, BUT if we have been truly saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we should all feel the weight of such an undeserved gift. If we understand the magnitude of what we have been freely given, we should all feel indebted to those around us.
As I close, I picture those dancing penguins on their way to rescue the helpless – their feet moving with intentional joy owing to nothing but what they feel on the inside. I look at the church, I look at Christians, I look at myself and I think, “We need happy feet!”