In ancient Rome, people gave in order to gain favors. When you offered a gift, you put that person in your debt in some way. People gave according to family and friendship relationships, and they gave to secure political relationships. It was like the Mafia.
Paul challenged this Roman idea of generosity by encouraging the Corinthians to give intentionally and cheerfully, rather than as a power play or as an act of tribute to the ruling power. The Corinthians were neither patrons nor tributaries. They were fellow believers with the Judean Christians, part of the same body.
The early church was still figuring out their way in this whole church thing, how to weave together Jewish believers, who for thousands of years were the people of God—the way the world saw and approached God—and Gentile believers, the newcomers. A gift from the Gentile believers to the primarily Jewish believers in Judea would demonstrate their honor and respect for the Jewish believers and their sharing in the Jewish believers’ troubles, and it would help bring the two groups together in one body.
Paul wrote that at the Corinthians’ gift, the Judeans would “glorify God . . . [and] long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you” (2 Corinthians 9:13–14). The gift would prompt an attitude shift. They would no longer see each other as separate groups, but would wish to be together. Instead of suspicion and distrust, the two groups would pray for each other and recognize God’s grace in each other.