Being Soldiers

A few weeks ago we were watching an old movie, “Bridge on the River Kwai”, when Father began to speak to me through it and then I wished I’d been paying a bit more attention to the movie! For those who are not familiar with the story, it is based on a true incident from World War 2. British, Australian and American soldiers were held as Prisoners of War in a Japanese camp in Burma where the prisoners worked for the Japanese by building a railway bridge across the river Kwai. The full story can be read online here:

The British Colonel Nicholson refused to allow his officers to do manual labour for the enemy alongside the soldiers, citing the Geneva convention and immediately entered a battle with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Nicholson was tortured and punished, but wouldn’t give in and won a major victory over the Colonel Saito after much endurance, pain and agony. The soldiers were all proud of him and cheered when Saito finally gave in and released Nicholson from solitary confinement. But Colonel Nicholson was still a POW and it seemed that after this major victory, the victory went to his head and instead of being in defiance of the enemy, he began to willingly co-operate with the enemy. He told Colonel Saito that he could build the bridge much better than the Japanese and said that his soldiers would listen to him and do what he said. The Japanese Colonel cleverly agreed and put the British Colonel in charge of the building project. Colonel Nicholson told his men, “We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame. We’ll show them what the British soldier is capable of doing…It’s going to be a proper bridge. Now here again, I know the men. It’s essential that they should take a pride in their job”. So the British Colonel helped the Japanese and worked for them to prove a point: that the British could work hard and make something better than the Japanese – which I guess you could say was pride!

The British Colonel actually became a harder taskmaster than the enemy had ever been; he not only had his officers working ridiculously hard (in spite of the agony he’d endured so they wouldn’t have to work!), but also put sick patients from the hospital to work also. He HAD to have his structure finished within the timeframe for the sake of his pride. The prisoners had so much respect for him because of what he’d endured, that they willingly worked and did a great job… for their enemy! You could say that their love and respect for their leader blinded them. They thought they were working for Colonel Nicholson but they were really working for the enemy.

The only person in the film who questioned what the British Colonel was doing was the British Doctor, Clipton. He queried whether the Colonel should be helping the enemy so much, but each time the British Colonel just brushed him aside and said “You don’t understand the army”.

Although Nicholson believes the construction is a “good idea” because it builds the men’s morale and re-establishes discipline, Clipton doubts the bridge’s benefits, because it ultimately serves the Japanese purpose and could be considered treasonous:

“The fact is, what we’re doing could be construed as, forgive me sir, collaboration with the enemy. Perhaps even as treasonable activity… Must we work so well? Must we build them a better bridge than they could have built for themselves?”

Nicholson dismisses the notion that the British are aiding the enemy and contributing to the Japanese war effort, interested only in showing the Japanese savages what morally and intellectually-superior British ingenuity and knowledge can accomplish.” (by Tim Dirks,

The bridge was finished on schedule, much to the delight of the British and the Japanese Colonels. But a few weeks before its completion, an American soldier escaped from the camp and got to the coast. The British army picked him up, and told him they were sending him straight back, along with demolition experts, to blow up the bridge they’d just built because the bridge was strategic and would enable the enemy to transport men and goods across the river Kwai. The American didn’t want to go back, but he had no choice as he had been pretending to be a Commander even though he had no rank, and the British knew this.

The team of demolition soldiers got to the place of the bridge on time, they were to blow it up on a certain day for maximum impact: the first day of its use when it would have a trainload of Japanese army personnel crossing the river. They got everything in place at night, but woke the next morning to discover that during the night the river level had dropped and their wires were now visible in the water and on the sand bank, but they could do nothing about it in daylight because the bridge was being guarded and they would be seen.

Colonel Nicholson strolled across the bridge with the Japanese Colonel while waiting for the train, but the British Colonel sees something unusual at the base of the bridge and points it out to the Japanese Colonel… so they both go down under the bridge to take a closer look. Nicholson sees the wire leading to the explosives and follows it to where the British soldier is hiding, waiting for the train to arrive so he can push the plunger and blow up the bridge along with the train. The two British men fight each other and the soldier yells at Nicholson that he is British and doing this for the British army, but the Colonel doesn’t seem to comprehend this fact; all he seems to be thinking of is protecting “his” bridge, his construction, his structure.

The British soldier dies and one of the other soldiers on the demolition team sees that Nicholson is going to sabotage the whole plan, so they shoot him. As Colonel Nicholson is dying he seems to finally realise what’s happened, and his last words on the movie are, “WHAT have I done???” as he falls onto the plunger and the bridge is blown up just as the train is going over it. The British Colonel died along with the British soldiers he exposed, who were trying to blow up the bridge.

How This Applies Today

I think we often see this exact same scenario in religion. Many soldiers are not fighting within the ranks of God’s army, but are really Prisoners of War; in bondage and working for the enemy. Instead of escaping, these soldiers are kept very busy, engrossed in projects and work and building structures which serve to actually help the enemy, but they are blind to this fact because they are either working for an overseer/leader they respect or they are the overseer and they proudly own the project like the British Colonel did.

Ownership and possession can be a very blinding thing. We blindly defend and justify what we believe to be ours. True spiritual ministry and service are initiated, maintained and owned only by God, we are simply His workers. When we know the reality of this truth in our hearts, it is incredibly liberating because God is the one Who is ultimately responsible for “projects”, we are simply stewards who are responsible for doing what He says!

The soldiers who were trying to blow up the man-made structure were prevented and betrayed by one of their own men: the colonel who “owned” the structure because he’d overseen the whole building project. He had basically sided with the enemy without realising it, because ambition and pride had blinded him.

At one point Colonel Nicholson said that the prisoners MUST work; they must be kept busy and must have a purpose and something to work on, because it was good discipline and good for their morale. There is a correlation to this in the Bible. When the children of Israel began to seriously consider leaving Egypt, the enemy’s response was to double their workload; to get them so busy and so occupied that they wouldn’t have either the time or the energy to consider escaping. “Forget about escaping, just work…” Colonel Nicholson got tricked into the do-ing thing to the point that he became utterly blind; so blind that he did not want his own army to blow up his project, the result of all his hard work, even though what he’d made would help the enemy! Whose side was he on? Who was he really working for?

While we are clearly not advocating blowing up things men have built, we are prepared to expose and reveal those religious, self-righteous mindsets which we all need to have blown away, because these mindsets limit us and others and can indeed aid the enemy’s work. “For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons. For the weapons of our warfare are not physical, but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds, we refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ”.

That is not easy and can be a real battle. It requires us to let go of our opinions, mindsets and traditions and to stop trying to be God in our own lives, and in the lives of others. Even the people in the days when Jesus was on earth were told to stop their own do-ing and instead allow Him to produce the Bread of Life in their lives: “Stop toiling and doing and producing for the food that perishes and decomposes, but strive and work and produce rather for the food which endures unto life eternal; the Son of Man will GIVE you that, for God the Father has authorized and certified Him and put His seal of endorsement upon Him.” But the people, like us, still didn’t get it. They felt there MUST be something they could do. It is a very hard lesson for us to learn that none of our deeds or works are of any value when initiated and maintained by us: “They then said, What are we to do, that we may be working the works of God? [What are we to do to carry out what God requires?] Jesus replied, This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].” As simple as that sounds, that can be very hard work and a real battleground for us!

We cannot believe and trust and have faith in Him while we are believing, trusting and having faith in ourselves; instead we learn that we desperately need Jesus Himself to produce and be Faith in us and for us. “One great hindrance to faith is lack of need. If God blesses you with need He will bless you with faith, and faith works best in really desperate need… He deals with the impossible cases. The trouble is that when God gives us a chance to exercise faith, you and I so often cast it aside. There is little sense in believing if at the same time you provide yourself with an alternative way out! Faith works most convincingly when there is none.” (Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness).

While many of us may see the parallels of religion with being in bondage, there are other bondages that we may still need freedom from including self-righteousness and bondage to Self. Even when we have been freed from religion, our own laws and opinions can still blind and bind us just as much as religion because we can very quickly and easily make a whole new set of laws which we feel we must fulfil in order to please God.

Our freedom and liberty are very, very precious. They are also very, very costly. True freedom can be quite frightening because we must relinquish control in order to be free. Control makes us feel secure. Rules, regulations and laws make us think we are doing fine when all along, Self is still on the throne of our lives. Simply trusting God can initially make us feel very uncomfortable and insecure because we must truly totally trust Another….

Escape from the enemy’s camp was not encouraged by the British Colonel in the movie. In their welcome speech, the newly arrived POW’s were told: “A word to you about escape. There is no barbed wire, no stockade, no watchtower. They are not necessary. We are an island in the jungle. Escape is impossible. You would die.” Our enemy often feeds us the exact same lie: that we cannot survive by trusting God alone! “If you no longer follow our rules and work hard at this or that and no longer go to church every Sunday, you will not get fed, you will be alone, you will not be protected. Escape is impossible. You would die.” And the result of this lie is that many people are limited and bound by fear instead of being released to live by faith in the liberty of trusting a Father Who is more than able to take care of His own children!

A commentary on the movie states:

In a late-night meeting between Colonel Nicholson and his officers, attended also by Shears (the American who escaped) and Clipton (the Doctor), the men contemplate the odds of successful escape and survival. Nicholson determines that escape is not only impossible but not permitted:

Shears: Oh, I’d say the odds against a successful escape are about 100 to 1…But may I add another word, Colonel… The odds against survival in this camp are even worse. You’ve seen the graveyard. There you realise. You give up hope of escape. To even stop thinking about it is like accepting a death sentence.
Nicholson: Why haven’t you tried to escape, Commander?
Shears: Oh, I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the right moment, the right company.
Nicholson: I understand how you feel. Of course, it’s normally the duty of a captured soldier to attempt escape. But my men and I are involved in a curious legal point of which you are unaware. In Singapore, we were ordered to surrender by Command Headquarters, ordered, mind you. Therefore, in our case, escape might well be an infraction of military law. Interesting?
Dr. Clipton: Yes, interesting point.
Shears: I’m sorry sir. I didn’t quite follow you. You mean you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs.
Nicholson: Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.
Shears: You just took my point. Here, there is no civilization.
Nicholson: Then, we have the opportunity to introduce it. I suggest that we drop the subject of escape.

As an English gentleman, Nicholson insists that his men be treated as soldiers and that the officers serve only in supervisory capacities, according to the military code of behavior: “I want everything to go off without a hitch starting first thing tomorrow morning. And remember this: our men must always feel they are still commanded by us and not by the Japanese. So long as they have that idea to cling to, they’ll be soldiers and not slaves.” Shears knows better through experience: “I hope they can remain soldiers, Colonel. As for me, I’m just a slave, a living slave.”

Are we slaves, prisoners of war, or soldiers? Slaves work for others because of duty and obligation; they have no choice. Prisoners are in bondage and also have no freedom of choice, they do what they are told. Soldiers choose to join an army (usually) and submit to training for battle and ultimately surrender their life and rights for the sake of their king and country. Ideally they are bound not by duty, but by love for their country and king. We also are bound by Love; love for our Country Above and for our King and His Kingdom! We cannot afford to listen to the enemy or compromise and aid the enemy for one moment. In this spiritual war, compromise means blindness, and blindness often leads to death.

May God give us Wisdom, Grace and Ability to escape the many things which bind and blind us by opening the eyes of our hearts to see where the enemy is at work, to see ourselves for what we are, and to see Him as All that He is!

Let us then go forth from all that would prevent us to Him outside the camp, bearing the contempt and abuse and shame with Him. For here we have no permanent city, but we are looking for the one which is to come. Heb. 13:13,14

Lynette Woods