“Christians” who revile

In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I have been meditating on this verse:

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.
(1Co 5:11 NAS)

It seems so clear to me, but the implications are profound. There are those who go about calling themselves Christians. And yet their lives are marked with sexual immorality, greed, love of money, and hatred.

One word in particular strikes me – a reviler. A reviler is one who is deliberately abusive in their speech. A reviler is one who uses speech to vomit out their anger, to tear down and destroy, and to belittle and condemn. A reviler doesn’t leave physical bruises, but seeks to silence and degrade the image of God in their target.

The church at Corinth was being rebuked by the Apostle for being too proud to remove the corrupt leaven.

So here is my question: How can we refuse to allow divorce from a reviler (or any of the other crimes on this list), when the scripture forbids us from even eating with a so-called brother who is a reviler?

Doesn’t this involve us in hopeless contradiction? If the trumpet blows an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

So, for all who think that if there aren’t bruises there can’t be divorce, answer me this. What are you wanting to happen? A man systematically tears down his wife for years with his words. He doesn’t use fists, for he is skilled at destructive speech. He comes to church every Sunday and professes Christ. According to this text, he is a reviler, who calls himself a brother. So, what does this passage say? “Don’t even eat with this guy. He will corrupt the whole church.”

But then you force his wife and children to live with him. “He didn’t leave any bruises. You aren’t really in danger. You have no grounds for divorce.”

Can you explain this to me? I’m trying to understand, and coming up empty.

Are you willing to excommunicate the victim for obeying the command of the Lord in this passage? Or is it your contention that she should still continue the intimacy of marriage, but perhaps eat separately? I’m having a hard time understanding this position.

Perhaps this is why the church today has become so corrupted. We have been tolerating corrupt leaven. I say it is time we stop, and start obeying the Lord. You can be a reviler, or you can be a Christian. You can’t be both. In fact, according to this text, a reviler who calls himself a brother is far, far worse than an outright unbeliever. A reviler who is allowed to call himself a brother will corrupt the whole church. That isn’t me saying that. That’s God Himself.

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46 Comments

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46 responses to ““Christians” who revile

  1. Oh, Sam, this so resonates with me. When I was working on “Unholy Charade” with Jeff Crippen, a friend of mine gave me an anonymous first-person account for the book. I’m going to quote the whole thing here, hope that’s ok. The “I” in this story is the woman in the abusive situation. She used the King James, so it was “railer” instead of “reviler,” but same thing:

    There it was—right in the middle of the I Corinthians 5 passage, one of the places my husband always turned to in order to justify his increasingly extreme definitions of Biblical separation. There in verse 11, among the people we were supposed to avoid, along with the infamous fornicator and the debated covetous—there was the Railer.

    I looked it up in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. It was the kind of definition that struck deep and true. To rail was “to utter reproaches; to scoff; to use insolent or reproachful language; to reproach or censure in opprobrious [‘reproachful and contemptuous’] terms.”

    Was it really true? Did God really want us to be able to escape from those who claimed to be Christians but spoke with scorn and contempt, who scoffed and derided with reproachful and contemptuous language? That was how he spoke to us and treated us all the time.

    After all the years of being taught that obedience to God allowed no way out, it seemed almost too unreal to be true. But there it was. It became the first real lifeline we discovered and clung to on our journey to break free.

    • The Greek is loidopos. Friberg’s lexicon says, “One who intentionally abuses another with speech”. Every other lexicon follows suit. It is unavoidable. How can you force someone to stay married to one that the scripture commands you not to even eat with him?
      I think it’s time we dealt with that question. Thanks for the comment!

      • Scott Countryman

        Is the relationship between Christians the same as the relationship between married couples? No. Married couples are one flesh in God’s eyes. The marriage bond is validly dissolved by adultery, abandonment of a non-believing spouse, or death. I wonder if people don’t sometimes exercise enough wisdom when they marry. I don’t know. People can surprise us. People change. But do we really wish to see them as they are? Do we learn about them as friends before anything else? Do we date long enough to really know them enough to marry them?

      • I agree with nothing that you wrote, but am too tired to argue. People aren’t infallible, which is why God permits divorce. Jesus did not come to enforce patriarchal bondage, but to set prisoners free. Even God himself divorced his bride for treachery, and I won’t presume to be wiser than God.

      • Lea

        ““The Greek is loidopos. Friberg’s lexicon says, “One who intentionally abuses another with speech”. Every other lexicon follows suit. It is unavoidable.”
        I think this should be quoted to everyone who says ‘abuse’ doesn’t exist because it’s not in the bible!

  2. Reblogged this on Funhouse and commented:
    Again, why write a post when someone else does it so much better than I? From the comments, by the author, Sam Powell.
    “The Greek is loidopos. Friberg’s lexicon says, “One who intentionally abuses another with speech”. Every other lexicon follows suit. It is unavoidable. How can you force someone to stay married to one that the scripture commands you not to even eat with him?”

  3. You make a great point, if we cannot even name evil for what it is, what use are we as the church? Revilers are engaging in what I call soul murder. So when we revile, we are pouring contempt over someone in an attempt to murder their soul.

    Sometimes men have a hard time understanding psychological abuse because their emotional lives tend to be a bit different, but at the moment we have staggering suicide rates among men. Cultural changes,uncertainty,fear, the economy, have been psychologically abusive to men, they have whittled away at their confidence and sense of purpose. Some have been reviled growing up,some in the church, some in relationships. When people are reviled long enough and hard enough, they eventually break. It is soul murder, it can drive us to emotional collapse, complete breakdown, suicide, even murder.

    No bruises, but psychological abuse is serious stuff. If we could get more men to understand that this is a real thing, to get the church to listen, not only would women be safer, marriages better, but perhaps men would become more self aware about what sometimes happens to them in the world and we could drive down those suicide rates.

    • I think that it is just as damaging to men, we’ve just been taught from youth that “sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us”. We’ve been trained to suck it up, quit being babies. So we tend to bury hurt, pretend it isn’t what it is.
      But in the Psalms, the Psalmist cried out to the Lord because of the reviling speech that was targeted at him. He confessed his fear, his confusion, his hurt. But any man who does the same today is ridiculed, mocked for being “feminine”, and usually has a blog written about him condemning the church for becoming “effeminate” and calling for a more masculine Christianity.
      I don’t even know what those words mean, except that to express hurt like the Psalmist did is girly.
      I get tired of it.

      • I’m sure you already know this,but often what we moderns label biblical, isn’t even biblical at all. Men in the bible were crying out to God, they were renting their clothing and covering themselves with ashes. One thing you can say about men in the bible, they sure knew how to feel with deep passion and how to express themselves.

        Women too, the sweet submissive ones, for good or ill, were often to be found driving a tent stake through someone’s head or leading an army. I’m all for biblical masculinity and femininity, we just need to make sure we’re looking at the real deal as portrayed in the bible and not at our own fantasies.

        I’m sorry the church has made such a mess of things. If we would just look to the bible for real, drag out the instruction manual and really pay attention to what it is saying, and not what we want it to say.

  4. Bunkababy

    I like the other words too. Swindler especially. The words immoral and swindler can wipe out so many so called Christians right off the top of my head.

  5. E Schulze

    rending, not renting, I think, insanitybytes22?
    And Sam, I hope you are saying verbally abusive people should be challenged, put under church discipline and so on. One great comfort to me in looking back 20 years to my divorce is that the elders tried repeatedly to deal with issues. I was told it wasn’t the sins that caused the end of the marriage, unpleasant though they were, but the refusal to listen (to counsel, to rebuke, to the church).
    I’m concerned that suffering people might take this article as an indication to take a shortcut past dealing with trials in the right way. It is the church, not the individual that can say, treat him as an unbeliever. And when the church does that correctly, it is freeing.

    • I’m so sorry, E. You were given incorrect counsel. If you were married to a reviler, it was his sin that caused the divorce. Notice in our text, Paul didn’t say, “Try to counsel him for years and years”. In fact, he rebuked Corinth for their pride. I think that the thinking that if the church just counsels right they can change a reviler is simply arrogance that puts wives and kids at risk (or the husband, as the case may be).
      A reviler is NOT someone who gets mad sometimes, but one who uses speech to tear down and destroy. When a spouse shows such active hatred of their spouse – using words such as “I hate you; You disgust me. You’re fat and stupid. You’re such an idiot. You can’t do anything right” they have already broken their vows and their covenant. Did they not promise to honor and love and cherish? When the covenant is broken, they need to give her a bill of divorce, not go through counseling. Are you really saying that a husband that calls his wife fat, ugly, stupid, worthless, is someone who just doesn’t know how hurtful that is? And then they go and pretend to be a Christian on top of it! This isn’t a counseling issue. It’s a “cast them out” issue.
      One way to find out for sure if you are dealing with a former reviler who has truly repentant is to set the wife free, help her get safe, and assist her with filing the paperwork. See how he responds. If he is still a reviler, it will come out.
      I hope he repents, I truly do. But this would have no bearing on whether the spouse stays or goes. The covenant is already broken.
      That being said, churches err all the time. They worship the institution and keep the family in bondage to monstrous men continually. In fact, churches who help abused targets get free of their reviling spouses are the exception, rather than the rule. it sickens me.
      I cannot agree with your post. I am indeed saying that verbally abusive men should be challenged and put under discipline – even cast out of the church and I am ALSO saying that the woman must be freed first. If the reviler is disciplined and challenged and the wife is not set free, he WILL take it out on her. He always escalates. The safety of the family is far, far, far, far more important than our legalistic and false interpretations of scripture. God gave divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. No heart is harder than the heart of a reviler. This is why God gave divorce in the first place, to protect the weak and to set free those who are despised and hated.

    • Cindy H

      I am praying that more women understand that it is a sin issue and that they understand that they can leave to protect themselves and their children. What it comes down to no matter how you look at it, if they aren’t listening to counsel, to rebuke, to the church, you are looking at a hardened unrepentant, prideful sinner. It is a sin issue. I am so glad that God has put me in a church that sees my soon to be exhusband for what he really is and is very supportive of me. I pray more churches will be there for the victims. We need to call sin what it really is, sin.

  6. One more thing, it is the duty of a person to serve God, rather than man. If a wife and child are in danger, she knows it, and the kids know it. The church may have their heads firmly in the sand, in fact – they often do. I would say that if the wife KNOWS the man is a reviler, and the church refuses to acknowledge the evidence and the scripture, she ought to obey God, rather than man, and get away. She should leave, find a safe church, file divorce quickly before the abuser ruins her financially. I would HOPE that she would take this as a shortcut and get herself safe and her kids safe. No one knows what goes on in the home more than the wife. Revilers are NOT nice people who make mistakes sometimes. They are of their father the devil. We MUST get that straight.

  7. Cecilia K

    The church I used to attend didn’t seem to have any respect for the field of psychology, and I got the impression that they didn’t think that Christians should have anything to do with it; that it should have no influence in their lives. I wonder if, perhaps, there is a connection to that mentality and the lack of empathy for the emotionally abused wife. That is to say, that if they don’t consider psychological study a credible discipline, then perhaps they don’t consider that there could be psychological damage to a person? Do you think that is a reasonable assumption?

    I also wonder if in the less common case of the husband being abused by the wife, do husbands find the same dismissal of feelings and condemnation for separation or divorce from church leadership? I ask, because I get the impression from my previous church, that an abused man would get more empathy than an abused woman. Maybe I am being unfair, but based on a recent case where my friend recently filed for divorce from her abusive husband—who even confessed to his abuse—he seems to get more sympathy than she has gotten.

    They did bring him before the church and read his charges, but he has been allowed to stay, I assume because he confessed and put on his repentant face for the church, but my friend shared with me that with her, he would go back and forth, from seeming repentant one minute, to being angry and unrepentant the next about her leaving. Anyway, she left of her own accord, but she learned somewhat recently that the church has brought her under discipline for filing for divorce from her husband. Thankfully, some of the church members showed her support, but others kept telling her that she should reconcile with her husband, even one woman who herself is abused by her husband!

    Anyway, even from my own experience with emotional abuse (although not in a marital relationship), I just get the impression that that pastor does not have a high regard for women, and I have to wonder, if the tables were turned, would he be as condemning of an abused husband as he is of an abused wife?

    • I have seen the same things. Jay Adams, who wrote in the 70’s, had a lot of very negative things to say about psychology – and to be fair, there were (and still are) a lot of quacky theories out there. But then those who were influenced by him took it way too far. There are a lot of Christians now in the field who are not just pop-psychologists, who have done a great deal of very serious work, that need to be taken seriously. In order to truly understand anything, we, as humans, are called to name things. We see that in the Garden, where Adam named the animals. It is part of the image of God. An understanding of wickedness, then, includes giving names to what we see. The Bible says, “Sons of Belial” or “oppressors” or “children of the devil”, or even simply “a fool”. But to fully study and understand, I find it helpful to use properly defined terms as well: Narcissist; sociopath; psychopath; abuser; etc.
      It helps us put our finger on it. As long as we hold to the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, there is nothing wrong with naming the things we see. In fact, it is unavoidable, and the church has been doing it for millenia.

      • Thank you for saying that. It is encouraging to see a pastor acknowledging that we do have a right, or perhaps a responsibility, to name the mental problems we see, just as we give names to the physical diseases we see. As a worker in the healthcare field who has mental health training, I have encountered Christians who insist that mental and emotional problems are primarily a spiritual matter and have no place in medicine.

    • Are church leaders more likely to give empathy to an abused man than an abused woman? Good question! In my experience as a co-leader of the A Cry For Justice blog, I can’t answer this with certainty. But here is what I can say.
      We have a tag for Christian male survivors on the blog and there are about 8 posts under that tag which are their accounts of what the men went through . Some of those men say their church gave them little or no empathy when they were reporting the abuse and considering divorcing their abusive wives. Others say that their churches were quite supportive.
      In contrast, we have heard hundreds of stories from Christian female survivors of abuse. Only a small minority of those women say they got a lot of empathy and support from church leaders when they disclosed the abuse and were considering separation or divorce. MANY of those women report that their church leaders treated them with suspicion, disbelief, and misjudgement; the leaders patronized the women, and gave them little or no justice.
      A sizeable number of those women have been excommunicated by their churches for divorcing their abusers. Some of the women resigned their church membership but the church refused to recognise the resignation because they church wanted to excommunicate the woman… and the church conducted a ‘church court’ process and excommunicated her in absentia.
      What a travesty! What an egregious disregard for God’s mercy and justice! God will judge the ‘c’hurches that excommunicate victims of abuse for divorcing their abusers. He will vomit them out of his mouth.
      Here is our tag for Male Survivors
      https://cryingoutforjustice.com/tag/male-survivors/

    • “They did bring him before the church and read his charges, but he has been allowed to stay, I assume because he confessed and put on his repentant face for the church…”
      Yeah, that happens OFTEN. Most church leaders are clueless about how to tell the difference betwen phoney repentance and genuine repentance. Most church leaders are snowed by the abusive man’s lies, half-truths and manipulations. Most church leaders are not qualified to be judging this stuff and then need to learn a lot more in order to be astute enough to deal with it biblically.
      Here is our page What If The Abuser Is Repentant?
      https://cryingoutforjustice.com/what-if-the-abuser-is-repentant/

  8. Anon

    Hi. I would really like to know; does the title of railer apply to an abused wife who after years of emotional abuse, finally gets sick of it and starts fighting back with words when her husband starts his sancitmonious emotional abuse. When she no longer cares about upsetting him anymore and so she scoffs back at his outrageous twisted Christian accusations, and even says some true but harsh things in a less than Christian way? I’m at the end of my tether and have found the past year I am fighting back with words. I hate it when I react, but it feels good to not be squashed down by his abuse for once and give him a bit of truth. But I’m afraid I have become a railer like him and no I must stop. But it is so hard to when that threshold of putting up with his abuse has been crossed in me. It’s like years of being abused rising up in me. Please answer.
    Thanks.

    • It is somewhat difficult to answer a question like this without spending time talking with you and listening to you, but I will give some general principles.
      First, as image bearers of God, we have been given the gift of voice, communication. We were created to “speak the truth in love”. Abuse seeks to silence that voice, and freeing yourself from abuse involves regaining that voice. This part is hard, because you have been silenced for so long, and it has become ingrained in your thinking that speaking out is “gossip” and that God wants you to be silent. But those things aren’t true. God desires that the secret things of darkness be exposed before all. So I am very happy that your voice is coming back. Continue to speak the truth. Continue to expose darkness.
      But it is also true that we oftentimes respond sinfully to abuse. Sometimes a wise counselor can help sort out the tangles, and help you see the difference between sinful behavior, and signs of healing. It seems to me that you are simply regaining your voice and speaking the truth, which is good.
      But without knowing the specifics, I can’t say “this is sin” or “this is not sin”.
      But I don’t think that the word “railer” would apply to someone finally fighting back. When we use harsh words when they are needed, we do not then become railers. Jesus also used harsh words. They are often necessary. The modern idea of “nice, Christian people” with soft, opinionless words, is not really a biblical idea.
      The best way to untangle what is sinful and what is not is to immerse yourself in the scripture. Don’t listen to what the abuser says, and don’t listen to the accusations of your own heart. But listen to what the scripture says.
      Don’t falsely accuse. Don’t murder with the tongue. Put off desires of revenge by leaving it in God’s hands. Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him. And so forth.
      There is nothing wrong with godly anger. I hope this helps. I would suggest that you find a trusted counselor and talk through specifics. That can do far more good than a quick blog answer.

    • Allie

      I am in the same situation- it’s like all the years of hurt and oppression come out in angry words. I don’t want to sin against God, I don’t want to be a reviler. It’s just that sometimes after weeks or months, my filter just leaves. Then I end up feeling guilty and ashamed. Then in my mind what happens is I start thinking everything has to be my fault and that I’ve been deceived the whole time and I need to look at myself and try harder.

  9. ArdentLady

    Good article, and thank you for taking up this thorny topic. In my experience with revilers, and the times when I have done reviling, it seems to come down to power and manipulation – trying to bend another person to gain a wanted goal. It’s playing god with a heavy hand – trying to MAKE the other person give something that’s seen as needed by the one pushing to gain it. It’s a quest for Power, rooted in the pain inside, and Selfishness. Rather than sharing the felt need with another being, the focus became how to take it by force, by words and deeds.
    So many ways to lose at that effort… and such sad results.

  10. You know, I have too much faith to dismiss as mere coincidence the fact that I came across this post. Less than 24 hours ago, I decided to delete my Facebook account because I had spent a week enduring and trying to understand “Christian” revilers there and, even more so, the “Christians” who WILL NOT commit to identifying EVIL as evil. “Let go of your self-righteousness,” they screamed. “At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it, we’re all sinners through and through!”
    Having been through more than one severely abusive situation – none of which was physical in nature! – I could no longer pretend that these “Christians” did not induce vomit in my soul. They do. They always have and they always will.
    We know that our “rightness” with God is wholly outside of us, in Christ alone. However, our “rightness” with one another still requires our participation with one another. That’s a horrifying thing when you realize that you are dealing with “Christians” who not only call good evil and evil good, but who are beginning to refuse to call most things anything at all.
    Before finding this post, I’d honestly lost all hope. THANK YOU for sharing.

  11. Kim Kelly

    Pastor Powell, thank you for your wise counsel. I am currently an un-churched person, and I consider your posts, and those of ACFJ, to be my church. If you have ever felt like you were wandering in the wilderness, frustrated by revilers and the unbiblical teachings so prevalent, please know that you make a difference to this particular soul, and many others.

  12. Pingback: “Christians” who revile | ibdiva0821

  13. Pingback: “Christians” Who Revile - The Aquila Report

  14. Forrest L. Marion

    The church must confront the sin of reviling using proper biblical (Matthew 18) and church government process (for example, a church’s constitution or book of church order). If the reviler refuses to change, he requires church discipline even to the point of excommunication. If excommunicated, he is then dealt with as an unbeliever and the divorce is unquestionably a biblical one.

    • This rather oversimplified and unbiblical approach has gotten women and children killed. The church assumes that Matthew 18 is the only passage in the bible, and while they are spending months or even years trying to “reconcile” the couple, the reviler is continuing his reign of terror against his wife and children>
      By the time the victim actually tells the elders what is going on, she has already exhausted the first two steps of Matthew 18, and has paid the price. When she goes to the elders, she is now greatly vulnerable and he WILL have retribution against her, all the while crying his tears of repentance before the church board. Remember, he isn’t a Christian, so he has no problem with saying one thing and doing another.
      So he goes home and the violence in the home escalates. What does the church do then? Tell her to submit more?
      This guy is a child of the devil. He must be cast out.
      Of course I believe that the church must have a proper hearing, etc, before throwing him out – but before any of that can happen, they must first do everything in their power to make sure the wife and children are safe.
      But we have failed miserably.
      What do we tell the wife and children when the church refuses to excommunicate the man (which happens at least 99% of the time. They spend YEARS counseling and then telling the victim to repent. I have never seen a reviler excommunicated, hence the blog.) So what does she do then?
      Eventually, she must obey God rather than man.
      Please expand your knowledge on this. It is far more complicated that a pat answer. I would encourage you to go to cryingoutforjustice.com and study up on some of the resources there.
      In about 20 minutes, I will be up in the hills without a signal for the week, so I won’t be able to respond.

  15. raspberries

    Why divorce? Why not separate and keep praying for repentance? Is divorce biblical in a situation like this? Separation may be needed, but God hates divorce.

  16. Sadly I can relate to this post. I was a pastors wife and now divorced. I was so blind….he was protected because I thought he “was called”.

  17. Dear all :I’m in the woods right now in the middle of nowhere. Church Camp. I will be offline for a few days. I will try to engage when I get back.

  18. Pingback: Dear Michael Pearl, this is what righteous anger looks like | Here's the Joy

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