A reviler is a person who uses words to damage, control, or insult someone’s character or reputation. Today we would call a reviler a verbal abuser. Reviler is a multi-purpose word that is used in the Bible to describe all manner of verbal sin, such as slander, angry outbursts, and foul language. Reviling is usually listed with sins we would consider greater, such as homosexuality and theft (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 2 Timothy 3:2–3). Paul lists revilers among the sexually immoral and drunkards in 1 Corinthians 5:11, and he instructs the church to have nothing to do with such people if they claim to be Christians.
Leviticus 24:10–16 gives an Old Testament context for understanding what a reviler is. In this passage, a man was heard cursing God and was brought to Moses to see what should be done with him. The man was accused of being a blasphemer against the Lord. In this instance, the word for “blasphemer” is also translated “reviler” in some versions. The Lord’s response to this sin was to say, “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death” (verse 16).
Our words matter to God (Psalm 19:14) because what comes out of the mouth reveals what is in the heart (Matthew 15:11). The man in Leviticus 24 blasphemed the Lord because he was reviling Him in his heart. We often excuse our foul speech by telling ourselves, “I’m not really like that. I just got provoked.” Jesus says we are like that, on the inside (Matthew 15:18), and, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Revilers are simply revealing what is in their hearts, and it is the heart that God searches and judges (Jeremiah 17:9–10).
Revilers give themselves permission to misuse the gift of speech while justifying their ongoing sin. Verbal abusers blame their victims. The foul-mouthed blame bad company (Ephesians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 15:33). Slanderers and blasphemers either don’t believe in God or have reduced Him in their minds to an entity they can feel comfortable with (Psalm 14:1; Zephaniah 3:5). People who revile God have no fear of the Lord and will face His wrath one day (Proverbs 1:7). We are even warned against reviling angelic majesties (Jude 1:10).
Revilers who come to Christ can change by surrendering their mouths to the Lord (Romans 6:13–14). They can reckon their verbal sin as crucified along with the rest of their past (Romans 6:6–7). They can ask God to make them sensitive to the words that offend the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and they can discipline themselves to ask forgiveness every time they revile someone in any way (1 John 1:9).
Our mouths were made for the glory of the Lord, not for lesser purposes: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” Revilers must learn to see their sin the way God does.
Jesus told His followers that revilers would speak against them, but they were not to lose heart. Men reviled Him, and those who don’t know Him will continue to revile His followers (John 15:18). The disciples were not to lose heart when they were reviled. Instead, Jesus gave them this encouragement: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV). Revilers have always been around but should never be named among God’s own people (Ephesians 5:3–4).