In this passage, Paul teaches the Corinthian church how they may be more likely to be content. He begins by telling them that it is okay for men not to have sexual relations with women. However, he tells the married people that they must fulfill the duty of sexual relations with each other. This is because they do not have authority over their own bodies. Therefore, Paul commands them to stop depriving each other. However, he says that they may deprive each other by agreement so that they may devote themselves to prayer, but that they must return to fulfilling their duty so Satan will not tempt them to commit sexual immorality. In verse 6, Paul says that he is saying these things as advice, not command. However, he says, he wishes that everyone was unmarried like him. However, he concedes that everyone is gifted in a different manner.
In verse 8, Paul tells the unmarried that it is good for them to remain unmarried. However, he tells them that those who lack self-control ought to marry because that is better than to burn with passion. Then, he tells those who are married that they should not be divorced. However, he tells wives that have left their husbands that they must remain unmarried, or return to their former husbands.
In verse 12, he tells the rest that are married that those who are married to unbelievers must not be divorced from them if the unbeliever consents to remain married. The reason for this is that God separates unbelievers who are married to believers to Himself, so that their children are set apart for Himself. This means that they receive special blessings by being joined together with a believer through marriage, or through birth. However, Paul says, unbelievers who divorce believers must be left alone because God has called believers to be at peace with them. Furthermore, Paul adds, the believers do not know if their marriage would have led to the salvation of the spouse.
In verse 17, Paul extends his instruction to any life situation by commanding the Corinthians to live in the same state of life in which they were called to salvation. Then, he gives specific examples: those who were saved while Jews are to remain as Jews, and those who were saved as Gentiles are to remain as Gentiles. The reason for these commands is that being Jewish or Gentile does not matter, but what does matter is keeping God’s commands. Therefore, he says, one must remain in the state of life in which he was saved. In verse 21, he addresses slaves, saying that, if they are able to become free, they are to do that. The reason for his instruction to slaves is that they are free men in Christ. In addition, he says, those who were saved while free are Christ’s slaves. The reason for this is that they were bought with a price. For this reason, Paul commands them to avoid becoming slaves of men.