As I said in a previous post, this is probably one of the most misinterpreted chapters in the whole Bible, outside Revelation, of course.
First of all, we must remember the Corinthians, at this stage in their life as a body of believers, were concerned about little things, such as who was the better speaker or suing each other, rather than the truly important things of God.
Paul begins this chapter by addressing a question the Corinthians had asked him in the letter to which he is responding. This question concerns the matter of whether or not the men should leave their wives and be celibate in order to honour the Lord, ostensibly living a monastic life.
V1-5: Paul essentially answers the Corinthians question with a no, since it is not realistic that most people could go without having sex, thus being tempted to fornication if they were not with their wives or husbands anymore.
V9: Geoffrey B. Wilson interprets the phrase “it is better to marry than to burn” as that it is better to get married than to be consumed with bitterness at God because you’re not getting your sexual needs satisfied due to having to be unmarried so you can work for the Lord. As believers, we must put the Lord first in our lives, but we must not neglect our needs along with serving Him.
V10: Now Paul gets into the issue of separation and divorce, probably as an incidental to the issue about which the Corinthians wrote.
V15: Divorce is condoned here if an unbeliever does not want to dwell with a believer due to the latter’s relationship with Christ.
V16: This verse reads in newer translations as basically, “Hey, who knows? You might save your husband!” (And vice versa) However, what Paul is saying here is the opposite, that, since one can’t know whether one’s spouse would get saved if they were forced to live with you as a believer, the believer should let the unbeliever go if the unbeliever wants to.
V17-24: Many translations take this as, and thus many Christians think, this is a separate section, in which Paul diverges to another topic for a few verses. Actually, Paul is here returning to the topic of becoming celibate, telling the Corinthians that just because they’ve gotten saved doesn’t mean they have to make a radical change in their lives, celibacy or otherwise. He instructs the believers to remain in the state they were in when God saved them, as they are now God’s servants and He can use the new converts right where they are.
V25-31: Paul returns to the theme to which he comes back to over and over throughout this whole epistle, that the Corinthians are worried about little things like celibacy but not concerned about the truly important things, such as Christ’s soon return. Here, he is telling the believers not to worry about being celibate for God or the other petty things people make a big deal over because Christ is coming soon and that’s one of the things we have to be concerned about the most.
Verse 31 underscores this point where Paul says “for the fashion of this world passeth away.” Here, Paul is making an analogy alluding to the theatre, where the backdrop for a scene is quickly changed so the backdrop for the next scene can appear. What Paul is saying, and what Christians have been doing the opposite of for the last several centuries up to today, is that the social and cultural expectations of the world constantly change, so don’t concern yourself with a whole bunch of legalistic rules about clothing, makeup, jewelry, dating, what exactly is OK for a couple to do before marriage, and all the thousands of things of the world ( the present culture and society) Christians seem to concern themselves with rather than focusing on the very important fact that we only have a short time before Jesus returns.
V36-38: This passage is widely misinterpreted as having to do with the behavior of a man toward the woman he is dating-a ridiculous interpretation since dating in the modern sense has only been around for about the last hundred years and more. Rather, Paul is talking about whether fathers should sell their daughters in marriage to a husband. Paul tells the fathers that if the daughter fancies a man, the father should go ahead with the transaction with the man’s family, but, if it isn’t a financial necessity; don’t sell your daughter off to some guy just for the money. Preachers would do well to actually have knowledge about the marriage customs of the first century Roman empire rather than putting their modern spin on this chapter.
Preachers and other Christians alike would also benefit greatly from studying Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth from beginning to end.