Have you ever been inside a fruit cellar? Until I was a teenager, I didn’t think there was anyone who hadn’t been in one, and I certainly didn’t know anyone who didn’t know what a fruit cellar was.
At my grandparents’ home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there was a fruit cellar. Many times, as the kid who had been assigned to kitchen duty, I was sent to the fruit cellar to retrieve something.
Now, just in case you don’t know what a fruit cellar is, and you’re dying to find out, I’ll be happy to tell you. There was a basement under the house where my dad grew up. The contractor must have been a midget because, even as a child, I can remember stooping to avoid banging my head down there. (As an adult, I did bang my head in the basement—a lot.)
Anyway, there was a small room off the basement. Actually, you had to walk down three or four additional steps to get to the door of this room. This was the fruit cellar, and it had literally been carved out of the dirt and lined with large rocks, deeper than the foundation of the house. Before the days of prolific refrigeration, these little rooms were built to keep fruit and vegetables from deteriorating too quickly. Dug deeply into the earth, these cellars stayed cool, year-round. My grandmother, who canned peaches, tomatoes, and all manners of things, kept these glass jars on the shelves in the fruit cellar.
As though it were yesterday, I can remember going to the fruit cellar on an assignment to retrieve something for dinner. Grabbing a jar of tomatoes wasn’t too scary, but reaching into a bushel basket of potatoes always made my stomach tighten up. Putting my hand in there to take a few spuds, I well remember the gripping fear that something fuzzy with sharp teeth would already be there—retrieving something for his grandmother, no doubt.
In all the years of visits to the fruit cellar, I mercifully never met anyone else there. However, I do remember bringing a potato to my grandmother one time and having her snap to attention as though someone had just dropped an ice cube down her back. She hurried down the basement steps and dashed into the fruit cellar. In a moment, she was back in the kitchen carrying the whole basket of potatoes. (My tiny grandmother was very strong.)
Dumping the potatoes onto the kitchen table, she earnestly picked each one up, meticulously examining them top to bottom. “What’s the matter?” I asked her. She didn’t respond until she had inspected each one. “One of the potatoes you brought up was rotten,” she finally explained. “If I don’t check every single potato, and if I don’t weed out rotten ones, they’ll all be ruined.”
Although you and I would rather believe that everyone is, deep down, a good person, the Apostle Paul reminds us that this isn’t true. There are, in fact, some pretty bad potatoes out there: “rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, [people who are] ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach . . . their minds and consciences are corrupted . . . [they are] detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good” (Titus 1:10, 11, 15, 16). These are very bad potatoes.
What the apostle tells his friend Titus—who was a leader and had some folks in the church who were turning the place upside down—to do is exactly what my grandmother did to those foul potatoes from the fruit cellar. “They must be silenced,” he orders (Titus 1:11). Throw the rotten ones out. Feed them to the pigs. Why? Because Paul knew what my grandmother knew. Contemptible potatoes are contagious. In no time, their rottenness spreads to good potatoes, and pretty soon the whole basket is spoiled.
Of course, Paul knew that he was a rotten potato to the core and without God’s grace he’d be walking around like one of those guys. But he also knew that Pastor Titus must be willing to call the unrepentant rotten potatoes in the church to account.
Paul knew Titus well enough to know that they both were sinful men. Nonetheless, his instructions were crisp and straightforward. “Save the whole basket,” Paul was telling his protégé. “If you don’t, the rotten potatoes will win.”