35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.
37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.
38 So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.
39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
40 But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God.
put a leash (v.35) = throw a noose — deprive of liberty — Paul was saying that they were still free to make their own choices in the matter of marriage.
behaving improperly (v.36) — referring to fathers, if they prevent their daughters from marrying without a strong reason to oppose it, which might cause them to sin as a result.
flower of youth (v.36) — of marriageable age
well/better (v.38) — not right and wrong, but a matter of expediency
whom she wishes (v.39) — Widows can make their own choices regarding whom they marry, while virgins can only marry with their fathers’ consent. — Romans 7:1-6.
in the Lord (v.39) — according to His will and, of course, only to another believer
my (v.40) — stressed — in Paul’s opinion; it’s not a command
The dispensational aspect of this can be seen by comparing this passage with 1 Timothy 5:14: Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
So, what to make of all this. I have a bit of a struggle with those places in this chapter where Paul says that it’s his opinion and not the Lord’s command. The commentaries all stress that these parts are as inspired as the rest, but it must mean something when Paul says that. 1 Corinthians was written early, before Acts 28, when the Jews had not yet been completely set aside. Indeed, there were still kingdom believers around, including in the church in Corinth (vs. 17-20). The Christians in Corinth were apparently being persecuted, which added an immediate, practical aspect to Paul’s letter, but apart from that there appears to be the over-riding thought that the Lord could return at any moment and usher in the kingdom, which means that the persecution they were facing might be the persecution prophesied for the Tribulation. It wasn’t that Paul was giving bad advice which he later rescinded (1 Timothy 5:14), but that he hadn’t been given full revelation yet. His advice was sound in light of the circumstances and in light of what he knew at that point.
I think Paul was allowed to say what he said because it was the right thing for the moment, but the Holy Spirit also had him say that it was not a command from the Lord because the Holy Spirit knew the future and wanted future generations of believers (us) to understand this wasn’t the final word on the subject, even though it was from Paul.