For an introduction to this series, click here.
The first part of this chapter has to do with marriage and divorce. Paul has some surprising things to say: "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife." (7:6-11)
Actually, let us continue reading before I comment: "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (7:12-16)
A lot of people have trouble reconciling this passage with what Jesus said about divorce. Jesus basically said that divorce is always wrong, except in the case of adultery. I think you have to look at the context. Jesus was confronting people who believed divorce was acceptable for any cause whatsoever, and He was trying to correct that. Paul was addressing people who probably took Jesus' words a little too literally, and he was going to correct their understanding that and soften it a bit. It is always true that divorce is never the ideal, but sometimes it is necessary. It is certainly not necessary as often as we see divorces in our churches, but it should not be ruled out in a situation of abandonment, danger or abuse.
Paul's overall message is one of contentment in whatever situation we find ourselves in:
"Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God." (7:17-24, ESV)
A lot of people criticize Paul for this passage, saying that he approved slavery. This is not the case. He was just dealing with the facts of society as they were. He said that a slave should try to obtain his freedom if possible, but if that is not possible, do not try to rebel or run away, because that will only create more problems for the slave. The point Paul was making is that it is better to remain content, even with a poor lot in life, than to try to force a change that will only create more problems. God recognizes the dignity of all, even those whom the world does not dignify. Contentment in a bad situation brings more glory to God than fighting for earthly gain.
There is a long section here at the end of the chapter about people whom the ESV calls "betrothed." The King James renders it "virgins." I think betrothed fits the context better, because Paul says some very strange things otherwise. It is talking about women who are engaged or considering marriage.
This is really a long chapter, and I overslept. Sorry, but it's almost 7:30, and I have a lot to do.