Read 1 Corinthians 7 at Bible Gateway.
This chapter forms a chiastic structure:
1 Cor 7
1a) 1 Cor 7:1-7, To be free of the Law of rendering affection, remain unmarried:
–1) 1 Cor 7:1-6, Let the husband and the wife render the affection that is due each other;
–2) 1 Cor 7:7, I wish that all men were even as I myself;
1b) 1 Cor 7:8-9, To the unmarried and widows, remain unmarried, but it is not a sin to marry;
1c) 1 Cor 7:10-11, The commandment from the Lord for the married: do not divorce;
1d) 1 Cor 7:12-13, Believers, do not divorce your unbelieving spouses;
1e) 1 Cor 7:14, The unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse;
central axis) 1 Cor 7:15, If the unbeliever departs, let him depart; God has called us to peace;
2e) 1 Cor 7:16, How do you know, O believer, whether you (your witness) will save your spouse;
2d) 1 Cor 7:17-24, Let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called;
2c) 1 Cor 7:25-27, Paul’s judgment (not the Lord’s commandment) for the unmarried: do not marry;
2b) 1 Cor 7:28-38, To remain unmarried is better, but marriage is not a sin;
2a) 1 Cor 7:39-40, A wife is bound by the Law of marriage, a widow is not:
–1) 1 Cor 7:39, A wife is bound by Law as long as her husband lives;
–2) 1 Cor 7:40, A widow is happier if she remains as she is.
1 Corinthians 7:19
Many of the individual elements also form smaller chiastic structures, which is why Paul seems to be repeating himself so much in this chapter.
In this chapter, Paul is expounding on the Law concerning marriage. When he says, “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives,” (1 Cor 7:39), where did he get that idea? And what law is he speaking of? He is not speaking of the civil or criminal law of the Greeks (this letter is to the Corinthians after all), because in Greek and Roman civilization at that time, there was no such law. Especially in the cosmopolitan areas of the Roman Empire, divorce was a common occurrence. The Law the wife is bound by, is the Law of God, which God has revealed in Torah.
So what is the Law of marriage? As we discover there is a Law of marriage in the 2a pair, the 1a pair reveals that one of its components is that the husband and wife are bound to render to each other the affection that is due the other. When someone marries, this is what they are signing up for. “I vow to love, honor, and cherish you” is another way to say, “I vow to render to you the affection that is due you as my spouse.”
Another aspect of the Law of marriage, that we see in the c pair, is that once you marry, the wife is not to leave her husband, and the husband is not to divorce his wife. Never mind the pagans, first century Jews had trouble with this aspect of the Torah Law of marriage, and questioned Jesus about it (Mat 19:3-12). Jesus reaffirmed that marriage was meant to be a permanent state, till death do you part. That is why the command, Do not divorce, is from the Lord.
Even the Jews in Jesus’ day had trouble with this, because it goes against the grain of human nature. Things get hard, your spouse gets difficult, so the human solution is to withhold affection. The human solution is to dump the person and get a new spouse. Until things get hard with the new spouse, and the new spouse gets difficult. Then what?
Could it be possible, that the Lord gave us marriage, and the Law of marriage, as a gift, to teach us and to help us rise above our selfish human nature? In order to obey the Law of marriage, if someone has set their heart on obedience, selfish desires, my needs, and me me me have to be put on the back burner. Husbands and wives, in order to remain married and live in peace, have to forgive, and let their mercies be new every morning. Husbands and wives have to lay down their lives to meet the needs of another, to love another better than they love themselves.
And here, in marriage done according to the Law of marriage, we have a picture of the love of Messiah for His people. Is your spouse making you unhappy today? Do what the Lord did for us: seek to serve instead of be served, and dwell on what you can do to make your spouse happy, not what your spouse is or is not doing to make you unhappy. Change your focus, shift your perspective, and ask the Lord to make you the agent of peace in your home.
For further reading:
1 corinthians 7, strongly fencing the door (2011)