Summary: Some thoughts on judgment and prayer, and the Golden Rule.
When Jesus says, “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1), He is not bidding us suspend our faculty of discernment. If that was the case, then He would not have gone on to describe certain people as “dogs” or “swine” (Matthew 7:6)! How could we make that identification without using some kind of judgment or discernment? No, He is rather speaking in verse 1 about a spirit of censoriousness: judging others as we would NOT wish to be judged ourselves!
It is a serious matter for us to judge one another, as if the day of judgment had come, and our own unworthy selves were the judges. Worse than this, if we are setting ourselves up as a standard when we are less than perfect ourselves, then we will later be judged by the same standard as we have used for the other - and will find ourselves wanting (Matthew 7:2).
Jesus illustrates this with His almost humorous (were it not so serious!) picture of the man with a plank in His own eye trying to extract a speck from his brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-4)! Why are we so busy “beholding” the minor faults of others without “considering” how great our own faults are? How dare we think to correct another, when we are not right with God ourselves!
Again, it is evident that we should still be aware and help our erring brother, which is in some sense to exercise judgment or discernment. But if we try to operate on our brother’s eye while we are half blind ourselves then Jesus - according to His own judgment or discernment - has but one word for us: “hypocrite” or ‘play-actor’! First, we must operate on ourselves, seeking out the sin that hinders us and leaving it with the Lord; and then, and only then, are we in a fit state to help the other (Matthew 7:5).
But again, Jesus DOES wish us to exercise discernment in relation to those who are outside His flock (Matthew 7:6). “That which is holy” is most likely referring to the word of God, and the “pearls” to the pearl of the gospel (cf. Matthew 13:45-46). These must not be cast indiscriminately to those whom Jesus terms “dogs” and “swine” - those whom we discern to have already hardened their hearts to it. We may mean well, but our lack of discernment may be the occasion of their trampling it underfoot and blaspheming it, and even gnashing their teeth against us and seeking to destroy us (cf. Acts 7:54)! There is both a time to speak, and a time to remain silent (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:7).
The imperatives to “ask, seek, knock” (Matthew 7:7) are on an ascending scale. It is a picture of importunity. Pray, says Jesus in effect: and go on praying. This follows on from the imperative to ‘Seek ye first’ towards the end of the previous chapter (cf. Matthew 6:33).
Such importunity bears its own reward (Matthew 7:8). But - lest we should presume that WHATEVER we ask will be granted - we should remember that there is such a thing as to ‘ask amiss’ (cf. James 4:3). So Jesus illustrates by a comparison with human fathers (Matthew 7:9-10).
Then He promises that His Father will give “all good things” to those who ask (Matthew 7:11). These good things, it appears from Luke’s gospel, come with the giving of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 11:13).
This section ends with Jesus’ ‘Golden Rule’ (as it has been called). This positive statement flies in the face of negative versions which were in currency at the time, which basically state that we are NOT to do to others what we would NOT wish them to do to ourselves. Jesus turns this on its head and makes it proactive: in effect, “DO unto others as you would have them DO to you” (Matthew 7:12a).
Earlier in His Sermon, Jesus had made this emphatic statement: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’ (cf. Matthew 5:17). Now He says of the Golden Rule (if we may call it that): “this IS the law, and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12b).