Revile is an ugly biblical word, and one we hardly use. The sin it describes, however, occurs far too frequently in our covenant conversations, marriages, homes, schools, and churches. And the words we use—name-calling, trash-talking, teasing, kidding, losing our cool, bullying or even verbal abuse—all minimize the despicable, destructive, malicious, and vicious nature of reviling. And often, then, so does any medicine we prescribe. Rather than treat the reviler’s stone-cold heart, we instead patch up the bruised and bloodied victim with the three T’s, “take it, turn the other cheek, and tough it out,” which in covenant relationships are the spiritual equivalent of “be warm and be full” (James 2:16). And so the vile murder continues.
Revile is the biblical word for verbal abuse, which is far too feeble a phrase. To revile is to launch any verbal assault in anger or hatred in order to humiliate, control, intimidate, injure, or destroy; it is to belittle, rail, upbraid, vituperate, reproach, castigate, vilify, threaten, insult, or slander—to name a few. Reviling is synonymous with cursing (I Cor. 4:12), scorn (Is. 51:7), and mockery (Mark 15:32), and is described as speaking all manner of evil falsely, self-exaltation by humiliation, and called a form of persecution and terrorism (Matt. 5:11; Luke 6:22; Is. 51:7). Reviling is rooted in pride, jealousy, and covetousness; in absence of self-respect, love, pity, or kindness; or in a determination to subjugate by fear (Acts 13:45; Ps. 10:3; I Pet. 3:8; Is. 51:7). It also usually involves dishonoring an office, whether of Christian, elder, parent, mother, or wife—ultimately because the reviler has no respect for the office of Christ (Act 23:4; John 9:28).
Scripture does not use the word revile much either. Twelve times. But that does not imply it takes the sin lightly. Nine times it is mentioned as sin against Christ or Christians; the rest are warnings against it. Two commandments specifically treat it (6th and 9th). And countless passages (cf. Proverbs) sharply define and condemn it without using the word. The reviler is described in satanic terms, a putrid grave for a throat, snake poison behind the lips, forked tongue, and mouth full of bitterness (Rom. 3:13-14). The reviler is cruel, keeping victims alive to torture and drain identity, soul, and hope by a thousand cuts. He is a manipulative, crafty, flatterer who not only uses the tongue skillfully to kill and possess, but as a cloak to hide from the Light and as a dagger to parry the Word. Vile cursing of classmates disappears around adults, acidic speech flung at the spouse is honeyed around friends, churlish Nabal at home transforms into Moses at church, and the same tongue that quotes chapter and verse about love, respect, or submission, conveniently is silent on nearby Scripture about reviling. Furthermore, nowhere does Scripture attribute reviling to Christians. Rather, it is called the sin of the profane and irreverent (Ex. 22:28), lawless and rebellious (Is. 51:7; Acts 23:4), enemy and adversary (Ps. 44:14; 74:10), apostate and despiser of God (Zeph. 2:8; Matt. 5:11), malefactors and murderers (Mark 15:32), Pharisees and antichrists (John 9:28). And revilers are listed with fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, thieves, and drunkards who, if they remain unconverted, will not inherit the kingdom of God, and with whom we may have no fellowship (I Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10).
Certainly, a child of God can fall into this sin. He has a depraved heart too. But he will not and may not let it characterize his life. Not if he loves Christ, who was reviled to forgive the repentant reviler (the thief on the cross comes to mind); and not if he has the mind of Christ, who when He was reviled, reviled not again but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (I Pet. 2:23). And Christ never reviles those He loves. And neither may we. Yes, as Christians, we may expect to be reviled for His sake. As Christians, being reviled, we must bless; and being persecuted, we must suffer it, likewise committing our souls to the righteous Judge (I Cor. 4:12). But woe unto him who reviles even one little one whom Christ loves and for whom He died. If so, repent. Say, “I’m so sorry.” Pray for forgiveness. And revile not again. For Christ’s sake.