Some of the Corinthians had written to Paul asking his advice and counsel on matters pertaining to marriage. In these verses Paul talks about the advantages, nature, duties and permanence of marriage.
(Vs. 1.) It is not unlawful to marry, nor sinful to lie with a woman in wedlock (Gen. 2:18-25; 1:27, 28; Heb. 13:4). Paul is simply saying that if a person has the gift of self-restraint and no need for sexual expression, he would be better off unmarried. While a good marriage produces happiness, fulfilment and companionship, it carries with it heavy responsibilities, personal sacrifice and certain troubles and sorrows in the flesh (v.28),
(Vs. 2.) "To avoid sexual immorality and unlawful relationships, let every man have a wife to love and enjoy and let every woman have a husband to share her life and meet her needs."
(Vs. 3.) "Let the husband render unto the wife all the offices of love tenderness, kindness, provisions, protection and respect." But the chief reference here is to the marriage bed and her sexual needs. Likewise, the wife is to be aware of the needs of her husband and to meet those needs willingly; otherwise, she is called by the ancient writers "a rebellious wife". According to the Song of Solomon, this relationship, when properly understood (free from traditional guilt and false piety, and knowing it is ordained of God with his blessings), ceases to be a duty and becomes joy and pleasure.
(Vs. 4.) A wife does not have exclusive authority over and ownership of her body to refrain the use of it from her husband, to give it to someone else, to neglect it, nor to abuse, it. The husband has a power over and right to her body. The same is true of the husband's body, to which the wife has certain rights. Better to recognize this as a joy rather than a duty or an unpleasant task. Happy are the wife and husband who find delight in pleasing each other with an attractive, clean and loving person and personality.
(Vs. 5.) "Fraud" is a strong word, but to refuse love and affection where it is needed and to deprive each other of that which it is in our power to give is selfish and evil. A lazy husband who will not work and support his family fails as a husband; likewise, a wife who fails in her marriage responsibilities to her husband is a fraud. "You may interrupt marital relationship in time of special spiritual burdens, trials and fastings, but only by mutual consent and only briefly, lest one of you be tempted to find satisfaction elsewhere."
(Vs. 6.) What Paul says in verse 5 about parting for a time and coming together again is not a command of God, but he speaks it by permission. This time of separation (for whatever reason) is neither essential nor required, but only according to their own wishes.
(Vs. 7.) Paul speaks here of the gift of self-control and abstinence, which he covets for all believers that we might not be in danger of temptation and that our minds and thoughts might be more on Christ, not the flesh. It would be a blessing to be rid of all fleshly thoughts and desires, yet each has his own special gift from God, one of this kind and one of another.
(Vs. 8.) If a man or woman is unmarried and chooses to remain that way (not that it is sinful to marry again), it would be better for them; for they would be more free from the cares of this life, have less trouble and be free to serve Christ. Paul was unmarried, had no home nor children, and was free to devote his entire time to the gospel (vv.32, 33).
(Vs. 9.) If a person does not have the gift of self-control in this area, he should seek a wife, and the woman a husband. It is much better to marry than to be aflame with passion and tortured by desire.
(Vs. 10.) As indicated, some of the above was spoken by permission and given as good advice; but this is a commandment! What he is about to say, we are under obligation to observe, because this is a law of God! "A wife is not to leave her husband!" (Matt. 19:6; Gen. 2:24.) Marriage vows are not to be taken lightly. Neither husband nor wife is at liberty to separate from the other because of disagreement, disease, or even differences in matters of faith.
(Vs. 11.) If a person cannot be prevailed upon to remain with his or her partner but leaves for some reason, that person is to remain unmarried; his departure does not make the marriage void, "Remain unmarried or be reconciled to your husband or wife."