COMMUNITY OF GOODS. An expression not literally from the NT but referring to the free Christian love expressed in the sharing of material goods, as recorded in Acts 2:44 and 4:34-5:11.
That the disciples were not forced to sell their property nor give it to the Church is shown by the example of Ananias and Sapphira who were condemned not for failing to give their property (Acts 5:4), but for pretending to contribute more than they actually had given (5:1-3).
Even this modified voluntary community of goods seems to have been practiced only in the Jerusalem church and for a limited time. Later this church received gifts from non-Judean churches (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Cor 8:1-5), one such church being instructed to lay aside offerings for the Lord’s work each week (1 Cor 16:1, 2), with no suggestion of any community of goods. Paul’s teaching is that individual Christians are to be responsible stewards of what God has entrusted to them (1 Cor 4:1, 2).
This principle of private ownership of property is also set forth in the OT where the respect for, and the sanctity of, another’s private person and property are taught (Exod 20:15; 21:26-22:13).
F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (1965), 101, 130-133.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ko-mu’-ni-ti, (hapanta koina eichon, literally, "They had all things (in) common"): In Ac 2:44, it is said that, in the infant church at Jerusalem, "all that believed were together, and had all things common," and (Ac 4:34 f) "as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet." The inference from this, that there was an absolute disposal of all the property of all the members of the church, and that its proceeds were contributed to a common fund, has been disputed upon the ground that the example of Barnabas in selling "a field" for this purpose (Ac 4:37) would not have been mentioned, if this had been the universal rule. The thought conveyed is that all believers in that church held their property as a trust from the Lord, for the benefit of the entire brotherhood, and, as there was need, did as Barnabas.
No commandment, of which record has been preserved, prescribed any such course. It came from the spontaneous impulse of the sense of brotherhood in Christ, when the band of disciples was still small, making them in a sense one family, and under the external constraint of extreme want and persecution. So much there was, that they realized, under such conditions they had in common, that they were ready to extend this to all things. It was, in a sense, a continuance of the practice of a common purse in the band of immediate followers of our Lord during his ministry. The penalty inflicted on Ananias and Sapphira was not for any failure to comply fully with this custom, but because this freedom which they possessed (Ac 5:4) they falsely professed to have renounced, thus receiving in the estimation of their brethren a credit that was not their due. This custom did not last long. It was possible only within a limited circle, and under very peculiar circumstances. The New Testament recognizes the right of individual property and makes no effort to remove the differences that exist among believers themselves. The community of goods which it renders possible is spiritual (1Co 3:21 f), and not one of visible and external things. With respect to the latter, it enjoins upon the Christian, as a steward of God, the possession and administration of property for the progress of the kingdom of God, and the highest interests of men. The spirit of Ac 4:34 is always to pervade the association of believers as a true Christian community. Meyer, on the above passage, has suggested that it is not unlikely that the well-known poverty of the church at Jerusalem, and its long dependence upon the alms of other churches, may be connected with this early communistic practice, which, however justifiable and commendable at the time, bore its inevitable fruits in a subsequent season of great scarcity and lack of employment.