6"I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty.
"But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
"In tithes and offerings. 9You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the Lord Almighty. 12"Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.
The Lord is ever faithful; His people are unfaithful, as He points out through Malachi: "‘I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vss. 6-7). God spared the "descendants of Jacob" because He is faithful to the covenant He made with the children of Israel. The children of Israel, however, did not keep the covenant, and "have turned away from [the Lord’s] decrees." If God was as unfaithful as the children of Israel were, they would have been destroyed long ago.
God is faithful, and He is also forgiving. He gives His people a gracious invitation: "‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty." As long as we are on this earth, God gives us the free opportunity to return to Him, and be blessed by His presence. In actuality, God, of course, is never far away, such that He needs to physically return to us. "God is said to return to us, when He ceases to demand the punishment of our sins, and when He lays aside the character of a judge, and makes Himself known to us as a Father. We indeed know that God neither returns nor departs, for He who fills all places never moves here and there. And we also know that we exist and live in Him, but He shows by outward evidences that He is alienated from us, and by the same He shows that He is propitious to us. For when He favours us with fruitful seasons, with peace and with other blessings, He is said to be near us; but when He lets loose the reins of His wrath, or exposes us to the assaults of Satan and to the wanton power of men, He is said to be far removed from us" [Calvin, 583].
And so, this request by God of us to return to Him is entirely for our benefit. He desires for us to know the blessings of being His children. Rather than accept this blessing, the children of Israel in Malachi’s time claimed ignorance that they had any "returning" to do: "But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’" (vs. 7). We need to spiritually aware. We need to realize when we have gone astray, and have a need to return to God.
God was ready with an example of their disobedience: "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings" (vss. 7-8). Now, who would be dumb enough to rob God?! And yet, many of us do by skimping on our tithes and offerings, which support the Lord’s work. Tithes and offerings were required of the children of Israel by the Law, in various places, and for various reasons (see Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:26-28; Deut. 12:17; Deut. 14:28-29). Someone might ask, "But do these laws apply to us Christians? To the New Testament believers?" (We are always looking for ways to get out of paying tithes!) I would answer that if God desired that His people provide for His servants in the Old Testament, who ministered the covenant that was a shadow of the things to come, then certainly God expects His people to provide for the ministers of His great and glorious Gospel.
And then how much should we tithe? Well, the word "tithe" means one-tenth, so one-tenth of your income is a good starting point. "Gross or net?" you ask. Well, offerings given to God were to be taken from the "firstfruits" (see Ex. 23:19; Ex. 34:26; et. al.), so I would say our tithe should be based on our gross income. I would advise that the "tenth" value be a guideline, a starting point. I would make sure that my giving was "pressed down, shaken together and running over", so as to make sure that the total at the end of the year always exceeded a tenth of my income, for "good measure" (see Luke 6:38).
To cheat on tithes is to display a contempt for God’s promise of providence. It shows that we do not believe that God will take care of us. "We think we have to store up the money for ourselves against the day when money may run out and God will be unable to provide" [Boice, 255]. An absurd line of thinking: to think that we can provide for ourselves better than the "Lord Almighty" can. As it happens, though, the act of cheating on the tithes was hurting the Israelites financially: "You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me" (vs. 9). "In seeking to rob God they robbed themselves, for they had failure of the harvest and famine, judgments corresponding to their sin" [Feinberg, 263]. "In trying to defraud God we only defraud ourselves" [JFB, 722].
Now, God could demand tithes with no recompense. We owe Him everything—life itself, yet He only asks for a tenth of what He gives us in the first place. And then, if we give back this tenth, He promises to bless us. Moreover, He dares us to test Him in this. In general, we are not to put God to the test, as it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matt. 4:7; cf. Deut. 6:16). Yet, regarding tithes, God invites us to test Him: "‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’" (vs. 10). "If we would have God open His treasury, we must open ours" [JFB, 723].
For those who have not planned for tithing in their budgets, it is a difficult thing to get started doing. It may even seem impossible. So, I would recommend gradually working up to it. Set goals. Say, in two months, get up to giving five percent. And then a few months later, ten percent of your net income. And then, work up to giving a full ten percent of your gross income. God has dared us to "test Him in this", so I am confident that you will find yourself blessed as you commit to this plan of action. In fact, quite possibly, those around you will notice how blessed you are. This is what God promised the children of Israel: "‘I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vss. 11-12).
Having said all of this, let me say that I think that many churches and many ministries concentrate too much on, shall we say, encouraging people to tithe. There are some ministries, most notably on television, that, it seems, spend all their time in encouraging us to part with our money. However, just because some ministries abuse the teachings concerning tithing, this does not mean we shouldn’t tithe. Abuse of the command to tithe does not nullify the command. However, we should be vigilant and use discretion concerning where we send our tithes. We should make sure that the church or ministry that receives our tithes is doing the work of God. May the Lord bless you as you trust in Him, and contribute to His work.