As early as the 1930s, spots like "Muscle Beach" in Santa Monica, California (outside Los Angeles) in particular were becoming noted for musclebound marvels that frequented the sand and surf. There they appeared regularly over the next few decades, flexing for fans, posing for photo shoots (in muscle magazines), and not infrequently, starring in specific genres of movies, such as “beach party” and/or “sword and sandal” epics.
However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as more and more baby-boomers came of age, weightlifting in general and bodybuilding in particular became more and more popular, eventually moving into mainstream American culture. As a result, weight rooms, gyms, and fitness facilities cropped up all across America. By the 1980s, many local “mom and pop” local gyms had been replaced by nationwide fitness chains.
Early on as this transition unfolded, the media picked up on the phenomenon, and helped to disperse it. Gary Gulbranson, writing in Leadership magazine, recounts a now famous scene that once unfolded on the "The Merv Griffin Show" during this time.
Merv’s guest for the day was a certain bodybuilder. During the interview, Merv asked "Why do you develop those particular muscles?" The bodybuilder simply stepped forward and flexed a series of well-defined muscles from chest to calf. The audience applauded.
"What do you use all those muscles for?" Merv asked. Again, the muscular specimen flexed, and biceps and triceps sprouted to impressive proportions. "But what do you USE those muscles for?" Merv persisted. The “muscle-headed” bodybuilder was more than a little bewildered. He simply did not have any answer other than just to stand there and display his well-developed frame.
Dr. Gulbranson goes on to write: “I was reminded that our spiritual exercises - Bible study, prayer, reading Christian books, listening to Christian radio and tapes - are also for a purpose. They're meant to strengthen our ability to build God's kingdom, not simply to improve our pose before an admiring audience.”
How right he is! In his First New Testament Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 8, verse 1), the Apostle Paul admonishes his hearers not to be caught up in merely amassing lots of spiritual knowledge, for doing so only puffs one up! Instead, he encourages believers to put that knowledge, gained through repetitive spiritual discipline and consistent spiritual exercise, to good use by loving others.
Biblically, to love someone is to seek his or her highest good at all times and in all ways. And surely this is what it means to put the results of all of one’s spiritual discipline and exercise to some good use! For this reason, Christians, above all people, must be careful not to become spiritual muscle-heads!
For like a bodybuilder with gigantic muscles who does not find some good purpose for which to employ them, so is a Christian who is puffed up with knowledge from extensive amounts of Bible study, church attendance, Christian books, tapes, CDs, conferences, workshops, retreats, etc… without ever finding a way to put all of this knowledge to work for the good of others!
Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not contending for us as Christians to live lives devoid of spiritual discipline. I am, however, contending that we as believers should also strive to put the results of all of our spiritual discipline and exercise to work for some higher purpose. Otherwise, we run the risk of narcissism!
And need I remind you that, for men and women who purport to follow Jesus Christ, nothing could be more incongruous? After all, everything Jesus did was on behalf of and for the benefit of others – even to the laying down of His very life!
STORY SOURCE: Gary Gulbranson, Leadership, Summer, 1989, p. 43. Dr. Gulbranson is Senior pastor at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, WA. Cf.: https://www.westminster.org/gary-gulbranson-senior-pastor/ as well as https://www.westminster.org/history/.
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/niv/1_corinthians/8.htm.
NOTE: Narcissus was an individual in ancient Greek mythology who, upon seeing his own reflection in a pool of water, became so enamored with the image he saw that that he remained frozen there in admiration of himself until he died. Cf.: https://www.ancient.eu/Narcissus/.