Jesus makes a number of statements in Matthew 7:1-12 which at first glance seem to be unrelated. Yet on closer examination, I believe we can see how these tie together. Jesus begins this section by stating “do not judge…”. It is important to understand that the kind of judgement Jesus is talking about here is that of condemnation. It is when one decides that another person is less worthy of respect for one reason or another. On the other side, the discerning type of judgement is actually quite important, necessary, and should come with maturity.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard suggests that this whole section is about not controlling or manipulating others. Going with this, verses 3-6 have to do with someone who believes they are superior trying to teach others their “wisdom”. (Or as Willard puts it, they try to push their “wonderful solutions” on others.) First Jesus says these people completely miss the problem of their own in-authenticity. They want others to do and believe what they say in order to support their feeling of being right, wise, and superior rather than caring about other people’s good. Second, Jesus says that you can’t help other people until you are doing so in the correct spirit.
I find verse 6 a bit difficult to understand completely. It could be saying that when a self-righteous person tries to teach others, the others can easily turn and point out all of that person’s faults. But Jesus could also have in mind not to try giving true wisdom to hypocrites because they aren’t the type of people who are likely to accept correction. They are very likely to try to justify themselves and tear down the one trying to correct them rather than listen to the correction.
In verses 7-12, Jesus talks about making requests. Then verse 12 contains what is known as “the golden rule”. Again, I think many of us have understood verses 7-11 to be talking about praying to God, while verse 12 is about how to treat others. But the “therefore” at the beginning of verse 12 ties the two together. Willard believes this section teaches us to simply make requests of others for what we need and want, as opposed to being deceptive and/or manipulating to try and get our way. (This is similar to the instruction not to take oaths.) Verse 12 certainly also suggest that we give to others when they make requests of us. Understood this way, verses 7-11 are both about our relationship with God and our relationship with the people in our lives.