Looking Beyond the Mark – Jacob 4:14-16

14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.
15 And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.
16 But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.
(Jacob 4:14-16)

What does it mean to look beyond the mark? I think it means to ignore or reject the obvious truth and try to find something more interesting, more flashy, or more exciting. The people Jacob describes in the passage above had stubbornly refused to accept the “words of plainness” taught by prophets of God. After rejecting the message and attacking the messengers, they busied themselves with looking for “things which they could not understand.” Jacob labels this vain use of time as “looking beyond the mark,” and tells us that because they rejected a solid foundation, they will fall.

I think there are many applications in our lives. Here are a few:

  • Procrastinating the task that we know we should be working on, and then busying ourselves with other less important tasks.
  • Ignoring the people around us because we are focused on tasks or projects we need to complete.
  • Failing to respond to promptings from the Holy Ghost, because we are already busy and have a hard time revising our priorities.
  • Focusing excessively on how things ought to be done instead of ensuring that we are doing the right things.

Elder Quentin L. Cook provided some guidance about that last point–prioritizing form over substance, or in his words, “rules” over “doctrine”:

Doctrine usually answers the question “why?” Principles usually answer the question “what?” Whenever we emphasize how to do something without reference to why we do it or what we do, we risk looking beyond the mark. At the very least, we fall into the trap Paul described to the Corinthians: “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6) (“Looking Beyond the Mark,” Ensign, March 2003).

Today, I will be careful not to “[look] beyond the mark.” I will focus on the highest priority tasks throughout the day and resist the temptation to revert to less important activities. I will prioritize people over things. And I will be careful not to become overly focused on form at the expense of substance.

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