Boys, Men, and Leaders — John 5:17

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 12, 2019

Boys, Men, and Leaders (John 5:17)

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

What should the training of a boy or young man look like? What is the end goal? How does it work? What is normal in this process? Most parents have enough trouble keeping their boys in line and have little time to think about their future leadership as a mature man.

John 5:17 typifies one of the many verses in the Gospels, where Jesus points to one crucial aspect of training boys. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is seen doing what every young man should do, which gives us much insight into a key part of the training process.

I’m not going to focus on Jesus’ age and the associated argument on whether mature men similarly need to observe their father’s purpose and intention. That is for another study. The lesson before us, however, calls us to provide proper training of boys and young men.

The Problem of No Vision

God best understands boys and young men because He designed them. He created them! Without a vision, young men wander and stray into dangerous territory, causing much harm for themselves and others. Juvenile delinquents mainly consist of boys and young men. I came up with two trios describing young men’s typically aimless life:

Wine, women, weird

Beer, bare, base

If vision does not steer the young lads, their lusts will. This undoubtedly became Samson’s problem. Being divinely favored, Samson’s parents supposed that all would turn out amazingly well. But Samson failed God, his parents, and his country. He missed his life purpose, and instead, allowed his lusts to consume him. Parents that bring up children in the church today face some of the same underlying problems that Samson’s parents met. In a similar way, our children are not turning out as well as expected. Many children are not only choosing not to be baptized but to openly join the heathen forces. Sure, parents can blame other people and the decline of the culture around them, but it seems, at least from Jesus’ lifestyle, that fathers who do not impart the right vision to their sons pose a great threat.

This problem stems come from a father’s lack of a godly vision for themselves or their boys. Whenever things get too comfortable for men—when there is no challenge to face the enemy—men cozy alongside their pleasures and lusts. The world hasn’t changed a bit. Satan might use different strategies to capture our sons, but he still seeks their attention. But in our modern world, blinded by our choices of entertainment, we parents are often too blind to see the evil one’s devices and too readily give the keys of our boys’ hearts to Satan.

The Challenge for Fathers

Perhaps, I need to state here that I am not a perfect father, nor was I a perfect son. With three sons, I could have better clarified the vision I had for them—but even that vision was lacking in part. I lacked the insights that I see so powerfully revealed here in Jesus’ example.

My burden is that we rescue our sons from the world, lest they become lost. I personally would have strayed had not God powerfully intervened in my life. The evil one was about to gobble me up with all sorts of lusts and issues resulting from a broken home, but God stirred up my mother to insist that I attend a youth meeting where God saved my life. Upon my protest to join the meeting, she told me that she wanted a father image in my life that the church could provide (through the youth leader). Although my Mom had a ruinous marriage, she had insight into my needs, which God used.

Fatherhood and Civilization

The vision for fathers and sons goes far beyond our families, however, and play a critical part of the makeup of society.

5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5-6)

Malachi warns us that there are only two choices for each society: restoration or a curse. Either fathers will begin to train their boys’ hearts for destruction will visit them. It is unfortunate that as the world seizes the hearts of our young men, parents respond by waiting and watching. Like Hezekiah, it is as if we don’t care, and the deteriorating situation somehow becomes acceptable. “For he thought, ‘For there will be peace and truth in my days’” (Isaiah 39:8). It appears like we just don’t care. We probably don’t.

Our Choice: Blessing or Curse Malachi 4:5-6

Most fathers quickly blame their sons for any waywardness, but the Lord points His finger at the fathers in Malachi. They are guilty. Like Eli, we become so relaxed in our comfortable spot, and though incurring guilt, are unwilling (or unable as in his case) to budge (1 Sam 3:13). Visionless fathers are poor fathers. Comforts of this world weaken men and drag them from their potential greatness, leaving them as poor models for their sons.

Malachi’s mentioned restoration requires a man’s concern to reach beyond his own life. He must care for others, including his sons, more than for his own life. With such a heart, he is ready to give himself in war, in marriage, and in the important task of fathering. Otherwise, a man’s lusts and pride will lead him from one mess into another.

The path to restoration and the preservation of civilization is two-fold. Not only do the fathers’ hearts turn to their sons, but the sons’ hearts are drawn to their Dads. Oh, may God awaken our confused age. Some Christian fathers have joined hands with the worshippers of Moloch who sacrificed their first son to their idol through abortion. Convenience rather than self-sacrifice steered them through their compromise. No wonder sons drift like broken-down boats at sea.

Our generation breeds fathers who don’t want to be fathers. They are even unwilling to commit to one wife. They choose the satisfaction of their desires over the challenge of expending their lives for their children. These sons know that their fathers rather be watching a football game rather than throwing a football with them. May we men step beyond the clutch of our lusts and the easy persuasion of the world. Oh, God, revive us!

Jesus’ Lessons of Sonship

Jesus, in John 5:17, taught us that which is expected of a father-son relationship. The father shares his vision with his sons. The son voluntarily pitches in as he can. The father prizes his son’s contribution, no matter how slow or imperfect his son’s work. Why? Because the father delights in the strengthening of the relationship during this shared time.

Most guys have never heard of this aspect of fatherhood. The American self-culture, so deeply obsessed with self, values only independence. They support the child with his wild and ignorant quest for independence. The American father thinks of himself as noble if he releases any obligations or constraints from his son, despite any greater hopes or concerns he might have. The father even provides gadgets, freedom, and money.

Good fathers, however, in more cultured nations keep a closer watch over their sons, creating a sense of obligation to live according to their father’s expectations. My father was completely hands-off. Anything I wanted could become my god just so it did not disturb his life. But it is extremely hard to evaluate a culture that one lives in. We, as fathers, as a whole are quite ignorant of God’s expectations.

American culture influenced me much more than I had believed. Some good sermons and Christian books helped me to acquire some discernment but rarely did they address the care for sons. So, I, too concluded that I did not want to impose my vision on them. But this is opposite to what the Father did to Jesus. My viewpoint, hardened like a clamshell, made it difficult for me to let God straighten out my mind.

The Better Way

God the Father has His perfect plan. The Son’s eternal existence implied His call to carry out the work of His Father. Jesus makes it clear that an ideal son carefully watches his father. “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17) Let’s note a few lessons on the father-son relationship.
An illustration of this, for good and bad, was David-Solomon’s relationship. Remember the many wonderful Proverbs that Solomon could articulate from his early days with his Dad, David? Moreover, Solomon eagerly took up David’s vision to erect the temple and complete those plans. (This is a prophetic type of Jesus, the Son of God, carrying out His Father’s redemptive plan hinted at in John 5:17.) However, David’s weakness with women also seeded itself in his son, Solomon. This brought untold harm to the Israelites.

  1. The father has a plan. He is vision-oriented but also hardworking.
  2. The son finds his greatest value, not in isolation or independence from the father, but in fulfilling his father’s work. (The average American will revolt against this!)
  3. The son carefully watches his father’s work. This mindset indicates a willingness to place his father’s will above his own. Or better yet, the son, as needed, makes his father’s will his own.
  4. By dedicating himself to his father’s work, the son not only gains experience but is protected from other things that might cause him harm and distract him from God’s greater purposes.


The son, then, gains experience and maturity through attaching his life and heart to his father and his work. Values are acquired and adopted. Physical and spiritual disciplines are gained. These contribute to the son’s ability to adapt to the challenges of gaining a wife and supporting a family. Personal skills are acquired by the son learning how to submit his will to his father, even when there might be different opinions and strategies. This type of family training produces strong families, respect for authority, and self-control, all producing a strong society.

Insights from the Father-Son Relationship

If every son was so trained, then each son would be loved by his dad and live for others. Sure, young men have a fire within them, but when they expend their energies for others, their lusts do not seem so overwhelming and compelling. There is more to life than indulging one’s desires and foolish thoughts.

The young Christian boy grows in faith and at some important point, sees His heavenly Father as His overall Leader. The picture of Jesus eyeing His Father’s work becomes a wonderful portrait describing a Christian. Puberty for the young Christian boy becomes the time when he transfers his full allegiance to his Father in Heaven. And he, like Jesus, esteems God’s will for his life and seeks to maintain it. He has learned to control His will and now, in submitting to the Spirit, he seeks to complete God the Father’s will in his life.

An Erring Society

The Western framework for independence became corrupted as it separated itself from the biblical model. Earlier on, our culture accepted a constraint on the concept of independence by placing it within a greater framework of God’s will. People lived for God and considered themselves accountable to Him. Today, independence is sold as a ticket to life’s greatness even though it leads through the broad gate leading to hell.

The sad picture of the church today is characterized by Christians who believe Christ died for them so that they can do what they want. Confession, in this case, does not lead to obedience.

This completely counters Jesus’ purpose of finding the fullness of life in the freedom to complete His Father’s will. Under the biblical model, mature men are not tyrants, seeking to placate their own wills, but learning their Father’s will and carrying it out to the highest level. This is the heart of leadership. No man should be, nor technically can be independent. Either he will serve God or Satan (Mark 8:33).

The godly man seeks God’s will and so devotes his energies to the building up of others. The worldly man, contrariwise, is consumed by his lusts and leaves little or nothing for others. (Think of the amount of debt in this world now.) Make a simple contrast between those families where dads lead against the ones where the father leaves his family for his own desires. Divorce is a horrible evil that causes extreme pain.

A Look Above

Some will object learning from Jesus’ example because times and expectations have changed. But we should note here, that this spiritual Father-Son relationship is transcultural. Our Lord calls us to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven by affirming the importance and relevance of Jesus’ loyalty to His Father. Are we not also God’s children? Do we not pride ourselves in claiming God’s love and favor? Let us then grow up by carrying out our Father’s goodwill.

As we seek God’s will, we will spend more time with our Father to hear and see what is on His heart. Jesus’ greatest works—such as the healing in John 5—are an outcome of constantly spending time with His Father, learning His plans, and seeing what is on His heart.


Fathers must openly reject the projected course of the world as seen in America and much of the Western world. Instead of allowing the slow departure of our sons’ hearts from us, we should foster relationships, expectations, and shared vision. Sons should see their fathers sacrificially devoting their lives for their wives, children, and others. Sons should not be preoccupied with gaining their independence but stepping up their allegiance to God their Father and live under His leadership, seeking to do His will in their given situation.

This transfer of allegiance does not negate the son’s honor to his physical father (Eph 6:2) but admits that one’s responsibilities, and needs, require dependence upon His Heavenly Father for more specific ways to guide, comfort, and otherwise encourage him.

The Larger Perspective

This topic of father-son seems to be a simple family topic, but it lurches much deeper into the basic fabric of society than thought. Adam, the first son, disobeyed and brought about horrible consequences. Adam’s sin brought a great fallout requiring Jesus to bear a great burden as our Father’s Son if He would set things straight. Through God’s love in Christ, we can become part of the kingdom of God. Jesus, the Son of Man, as a faithful son dutifully carried out his responsibilities as a son.

Bible Study Questions on John 5:17

  • Memorize John 5:17.

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

1. What are the Father and Son doing, as seen from John 5:17?

2. What does the “Father’s work” consist of?

3. Some fathers want to come home from work and just rest. Why is this an inadequate view of life?

4. What does it mean that God, our Father, loves the world? How does this image shape our understandings of what a good father is?

5. Why does Jesus’ attentiveness to His Father reveal a transcultural principle that we can apply to our lives? What does God expect from our relationship between fathers and sons?

6. We who are fathers once were sons. How were you specifically were influenced by your father? Include some of the topics below.

• Hands-off?

• Expectations?

• Enforced responsibilities?

• Lived above one’s own desires?

• Related and shared one’s vision and life?

7. How might the Son (Jesus) learn what His Father was doing?

8. Did you find yourself intent on doing your father’s work when growing up? Explain.

9. What was your attitude to helping out your father? Compare your attitude with Jesus’.

10. Do you think Jesus esteemed His position as Son? How do you know?

11. Why does the world esteem freedom from responsibility rather than the ability to carry out one’s responsibility?

12. What did the Father do for us to bring us into His family?


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