Changed by Grace
Martha Peace, author of The Excellent Wife, married her high school sweetheart when she was 19-years-old. Like so many women, she believed that marriage would make her happy, fill a void in her life. When it didn’t, she sought satisfaction in pursuing a nursing career, the demands of which put a strain on her marriage. When her marriage didn’t improve, she sought solace in partying. She harbored secret thoughts of leaving her family. Eventually those thoughts became real plans.
Her intentions, however, caused great anxiety that she could not hide from her friends and co-workers. A couple of her friends, relatively new Christians, encouraged Peace to read the Gospel of John and to talk to a pastor. She did. One evening, as Mrs. Peace read through John 14, God saved her. She writes:
“The next morning, instead of the anxiety which for months had been flooding over me, I awoke to the incredible sense of God’s peace. I got up and walked across the room, paused to flip on the light switch and thought, ‘My life will never be the same.’ I had finally found what I had been looking for. Jesus Christ, not I, was now the Lord of my life.”
God transformed Martha Peace. The woman who wanted to make her mark in the medical field and planned to leave her family died. Just a couple of years after becoming a Christian, Peace said goodbye to her nursing career in order to focus on her family and teach women’s Bible study. Over the last three decades, her ministry has grown. In addition to her responsibilities to her local church, Peace is a certified Nouthetic counselor, she travels the country presenting seminars for ladies’ groups, she is the author of several books for women, and she is an adjunct professor for The Master’s College in Valencia, California. The Excellent Wife, written by a woman who once described herself as a “full-blown feminist,” now spends her days serving the Lord and encouraging Christian wives to submit to their husbands by first submitting to the Lord.
The Excellent Wife is organized into four parts: A Wife’s Understanding, A Wife’s Responsibility, A Wife’s Submission, and A Wife’s Special Concerns.
In A Wife’s Understanding, Peace lays a solid foundation for the rest of the book. The excellent wife must understand who God wants her to become, she must understand God, her own sin, God’s pattern for relationships, God’s purpose for marriage, and her role as a wife. As in most books of this nature, the woman in Proverbs 31 is used as the pattern for a godly woman.
In A Wife’s Responsibility, Peace explains that the excellent wife is faithful to six commitments. The excellent wife is faithful to identify and turn away from her idols, faithful to her responsibilities at home, faithful to love her husband, faithful to respect her husband, faithful to sexual intimacy, and faithful to submission to her husband.
In Part Three, A Wife’s Submission, Peace goes into great detail to explain five principles regarding how an excellent wife submits to her husband, how God protects a wife who submits to her husband, how a wife can stay motivated to submit to her husband by focusing on Jesus Christ, how the excellent wife controls her tongue and maintains a quiet spirit.
The final section, A Wife’s Special Concerns, addresses several sin problems that wives must fight and overcome. Specifically, Peace deals with fighting anger and impatience, fear and anxiety, loneliness and sorrow. In the final chapter, Peace addresses how an excellent wife ought to respond to a husband who has sinned in such a way that she is left devastated and filled with sorrow.
In addition to the 21 chapters of the book proper, the Tenth Anniversary Edition includes 10 Addenda:
Salvation Work Sheets, in which Peace guides the reader to understand who Jesus is, what Jesus did on the cross, what the Bible teaches about sin, and how we can be assured of salvation.
The “Put Off”-“Put On” Dynamic, in which Peace explains repentance and how Christians are to put off sin and put on righteousness.
Questions and Answers, in which Martha Peace answers questions about her experience as a Nouthetic counselor and that readers may have after reading the book. For instance, she addresses what she believes Paul meant when he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians that the “woman is the glory of man.” She also addresses the wife who feels resentful because she never has any time to herself and the wife whose husband looks at pornography.
The Biblical View of Authority, in which Peace lists more than 20 scriptures dealing with authority and the context of that authority.
Meekness Assessment and Homework Assignment, to help a wife determine where she struggles in developing a meek and quiet spirit.
Examples of Not Answering a Fool According to His Folly, in which Peace offers specific words and actions to use when conflicts arise between husbands and wives.
Loneliness, in which Peace encourages wives to fight self-pity and pursue the Lord.
The Character of God and the Issue of Biblical Submission, in which Peace gives more specific instruction to help wives submit even when they do not feel like it.
Misperceptions Regarding a Wife’s Submission to Her Husband, in which Peace lists eleven misperceptions and how to refute them.
Advice for Women Married to Unbelievers, in which Peace lists 25 principles for a wife of an unbeliever to follow so that she honors her husband and the Lord.
A couple of distinguishing characteristics of The Excellent Wife are worth mentioning. First, not every aspect of the noble woman of Proverbs 31 is discussed. Peace does not address how she works with her hands or opens her home to demonstrate hospitality or how she cares for the poor or utilizes her business sense for the good of her family, to name a few. This is understandable as Peace focuses only on those things that pertain to the responsibilities of a wife.
Second, every subject is discussed in relation to the husband. He is the wife’s head, she is his helper. Because of this, the main idea that comes across is that the excellent wife is a submissive wife, first to God, then to her husband. The exception to the rule is when a husband asks his wife to sin. Only then is it permissible for a wife to refuse whatever her husband is asking of her so that she remains faithful to God.
Third, Peace’s writing style is to-the-point, sometimes abrupt. There were a few places where I would have benefited from more explanation. She does not include many colorful anecdotes and the stories she does share lack details and emotion. Also, many are stories involving other people, rather than first-person accounts. It feels impersonal at points; however, I think it is important to keep in mind that one of the purposes of the book is to be a biblical resource for counselors, pastors and teachers. Even so, my favorite chapters are the ones in which Peace shares a little bit from her life.
Excellent in Many Ways
The Excellent Wife is excellent in many ways. First, it is full of God’s Word. In every chapter, Peace offers pages and pages of Scriptures and biblical principles related to each topic. For instance, if the reader wants to know what God says about being a disciplined homemaker, then in the chapter regarding the home she’ll find at least 6 verses that encourage discipline and hard work, plus 6 more that discourage laziness. The abundance of Scripture citations leaves very little room for argument from the reader. In fact, some chapters seem to have as many words from Scripture as they do words from Peace.
Second, Peace is quick to expose the root issues of a woman’s heart. She does this in every chapter, but it is particularly evident in the chapter on idolatry. She guides the reader into understanding what her actions, thoughts, words, and impulses reveal about her heart. This is helpful because it points her away from simply trying to change outward behavior and points her to God who can change her heart.
Finally, Peace provides charts, tables, and graphics in every chapter to keep the information organized, user friendly and easy to understand.
Four Indispensable Features
Four important features make this book indispensible: Peace’s instructions for humbly giving and receiving a godly reproof, her instructions for repentance, her instructions for resolving conflicts, and her instructions for how to be an excellent wife even when one’s husband is withdrawn and/or an unbeliever.
Reminders of God’s Grace
If I had to name one thing I wanted more of as I read this book, then it would be reminders of God’s grace. It isn’t that Peace neglects to share the gospel; it’s that after a particularly brutal chapter it was good to go back to chapter one and remind myself that God has provided all I need for life and godliness. For instance, the chapter on love deals with trading bitter thoughts for forgiving thoughts. If bitterness were one of my besetting sins, then I might feel hopeless after reading that chapter; I would only have been reminded of how far I fall short. On the other hand, one might read and come to the conclusion that she had no room for improvement. End-of-the-chapter reminders that we are to be excellent wives for God’s glory and through his grace would be helpful antidotes to despair and pride.
This book is an excellent resource for Christian wives and women preparing for marriage. I wish I had read it in the months prior to my wedding day. It will encourage you and provide practical, biblical instruction for becoming an excellent wife. I would also recommend it for anyone who counsels women. If you are a small group leader, then you may want to consider this for your next study. This is also an important book for your church library.
BCC Staff Note: This review first appeared at the Discerning Reader book review site. It is re-posted at the BCC with permission of Discerning Reader and the review author. You can read the original review at The Excellent Wife. http://www.discerningreader.com/book-reviews/the-excellent-wife