Closer than a Sister by Christina Fox

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I heard a talk recently where the speaker described herself as having good friends “coming out of my ears”. It wasn’t a big point of the talk, but the phrase struck me, and I found myself wondering if that’s the way most Christian women felt about their friends. It certainly wasn’t a way I’d describe myself. In fact, at times relating with other Christian women has been the thing that has caused me the greatest hurt and disappointment. And I don’t think I’m alone. For many of us Christian friendship has been a source of sorrow as relationships fail, people leave, and circumstances change. Or even more painfully we are hurt, slandered, betrayed or excluded. Perhaps if this is the case a book on Christian friendship is the last thing you feel like reading. Or you might not feel you need to if you’re tripping over a friend or two that just fell out of your ears! But I think Christina Fox’s book Closer than a Sister is a beneficial read whichever extreme you tend towards.

Fox splits her book into three main sections. The first looks at the theological foundation for Christian friendship, the second focuses on what Christian friendship looks like by examining some exhortations in the New Testament, while the final section looks at challenges we face as we relate to our sisters. It’s a helpful structure. She starts with a mini biblical theology of friendship which was a useful reminder of how friendship fits into the bigger picture of God’s redemptive plan. She highlights how it is our union with Christ that creates union with other believers, and that we will love others because of his love for us. Fox describes what she means by Christian friendship or ‘sisterhood’ at this point. She stresses that it is a two-way relationship of women that share spiritual life together. In other parts of the book she will stress that she has in view those we see regularly in person, particularly those in our local church.

The second section looks at six different aspects of what it will look like to live with our sisters in community. I found some good challenges here to the way I am seeking to love others and be loved by them. I particularly liked Fox’s chapter on ‘Sisters rejoice together’ and the challenge to not begrudge our sisters their joys. She writes “when…we look at what she has and think ‘My life would be better if I had what she has’ we are seeking our contentment outside of Christ”. She goes on to encourage us that “finding our meaning in Christ keeps us focused on the work He has for us rather then what He is doing in the lives of others. Instead of comparing our story to someone else’s, we joyfully live out the one God wrote for us”.

By the time I’d finished the first two sections I felt I had a beautiful picture of how sweet and good friendship with other Christians can be when it works as God made it to. But I was also filled with a growing number of questions about the way I have seen Christian community play out in practice over the years. The third section was by far the most helpful one for me, and I was so glad to have the realities of our sinful communities that can fall so short of these ideals discussed. Fox starts with some ways you can work to cultivate these types of friendships. She openly acknowledges her own difficulties at being a part of Christian communities, and discusses how to deal with rejection, conflict, the loss of a friend and with loneliness.

I especially loved her chapter on ‘Barriers to friendship’, and particularly the section on idolatry in friendship. Fox states “When we expect our friendship to provide us the love, affirmation, meaning, purpose, and security that should only come from our relationship with God, we are making our friendships into idols.” She goes on to ask several piercing questions that get to the bottom of when we put friendships in the place of God. Ouch!

The only thing that I found a little grating in the book was Fox’s use of the term ‘sister-friend’, but there are always allowances to be made when reading the work of authors from a different context. I also would have loved for the last section to be longer, it was so helpful and insightful that it felt all too short.  The book finishes with a beautiful chapter on Jesus being our first and forever friend. It’s a chapter I’ll want to read again when I’m feeling lonely, hurt or excluded as it points us back to our perfect friend. What a friend we have in Jesus indeed!

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Meet our contributor | Jocelyn Loane is married to Ed, who lectures in Doctrine and Church History at Moore College. They have five children and enjoy church together at St Peters, Cooks River. Her children think her hobbies include laundry, finding lost shoes and making multiple versions of the same dinner.