In order to properly understand the Scriptures, it is vitally important that we take note of the context.  When it comes to the New Testament epistles specifically, one of the most important aspects of the context is whether the book was written before or after Acts 28.  This will reveal for us whether or not we should expect to see in the book references to miraculous powers, Kingdom conditions, and other things that were specific to the Acts period, or whether we would expect to find witness to God’s silence, the dispensation of grace, and other things that are specific to God’s dealings with us today.

Most scholars are agreed upon the fact that Philippians was written by Paul while in prison during the two years mentioned in Acts 28:31.  Some, however, specifically some Acts 28 believers, think that it was actually written during the Acts period.  This idea is probably engendered by the fact that this book is obviously written to believers who had come to Christ in the Acts period.

For some ultra dispensationalists, the idea that a letter could be addressed to believers from the Acts period (most of whom would have been Jews) after Acts 28:28 is unacceptable.  It is as if when the Acts period ended those believers dropped off the face of the earth and could no longer be addressed by God!  This is an erroneous idea, and is not consistent with the character of God.  God was no doubt very concerned with the believers who had come to Him under His previous dispensation, and wanted to make the transition to the new dispensation as easy as possible for them.  This was the reason why Philippians was written.

Some Acts 28 dispensationalists also have the idea that no reference to Israel or the things of the Acts period should be found in post-Acts books.  This idea is also erroneous.  This is not the way things work in real life.  If something was really spectacular and exciting, we are probably more likely to talk about it after it is over than we did while it was going on!  To imagine that the moment the Acts period was over and God’s workings with Israel were set aside, He suddenly stopped speaking either of Israel or the Acts period is foolish.  Of course He spoke of them!  For one thing, the book of Acts was obviously written after Acts 28:28 or else the final three verses could never have been written, as they would not have happened yet.  The book of Acts was written to explain the Acts to believers of our day, not to believers of the Acts period.  In the same way, certain references to things of the Acts period are made in many of the post-Acts books in order to explain them to us for our edification.  This is even true of Ephesians, the book of God’s present purpose!

So if God could write to us after Acts 28:28 to explain the Acts period to us, He could certainly write to Acts period believers after Acts 28:28 to explain to them the current dispensation of grace and their place in it.  If He had failed to do so, in fact, it would have been negligence on His part!

So the book of Philippians was written to believers in Philippi who had come to know Christ under the extraordinary circumstances of the 33.5 years of the Acts period.  Now they were confused as to the change in dispensations, mourning the loss of their miraculous gifts, and severely disappointed at the postponement of the Kingdom to some undisclosed, far-future date.  This book was written to tell them what God was expecting of them now that they were a dying breed, and what would become of their works and hopes that they had held so dear in the Acts period.

Some dispensationally significant verses in Philippians:

1:6.  Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

I have heard some scholars relate this to us, saying that the “good work” began at our salvation and the “day of Jesus Christ” is our going to heaven.  This is not what this verse means, however.  We can see this by the use of the phrase, “will complete it until.”  How do you complete something until a certain time?  This cannot mean that you are constantly working on it until you complete it, for then you would be in the process of completing it until that time.  But to complete something until a future time means to cease from working on it until future circumstances cause you to begin work on it again.  In other words, to “complete until” means to POSTPONE.  If I complete work on a project until I receive more funds, that does not mean that I am currently working on it.  I am currently not doing anything on that project, and I will not until I get the aforementioned funds.  The completion of that project has been postponed.

In the same way God had begun a project among the Philippians during the Acts period.  Notice that important word “you.”  That He “has begun a good work in you” does not necessarily mean He has begun that work in me too.  Many, many errors in Biblical interpretation have come about by not taking note of pronouns such as this.  When we read a “you,” we should look at the context to see whom is meant, and then carefully make a decision as to whether we can include ourselves in this pronoun or not.  In this case, “you” is just the Philippians.  God had begun a good work among them.  Now, He was doing that work no longer.  But, lest they fear that somehow the work that had been done among them was now being taken away from them and given to the Gentiles, God promises that He would be faithful not to make the tiniest addition to that work until it found its completion in the day of Jesus Christ.  What is the day of Jesus Christ?  It is the next stage of the Kingdom, when God takes complete control of the entire earth.  This was what the Acts period was leading up to, and every event in the Acts period was significant towards that goal of the Kingdom.  Yet nothing will be added to that work done in the Acts period during our time in the dispensation of grace.  Not until this dispensation ends and the day of Jesus Christ suddenly arrives will anything be added to the Acts work.  This was God’s promise in this verse, and so these Philippians could know that their important work and calling would not be compromised, and the dispensation of grace was not God in fact giving their blessings that they had been promised to someone else.

1:10.  That you may approve the things that are excellent.

As Bullinger says in the Companion Bible, the word translated “are excellent” actually means “differ” in Greek.  They were to figure out the things that were different about the current dispensation of grace than what they had come to know in the Acts period, and were to approve of those good things about the dispensation of grace that differed from the Acts period.  We should do this as well, rather than trying to resurrect the Acts period, as many are trying to do.

1:13.  So that it has become evident to the whole palace guard.

What palace guard, if he was not in Rome?

1:15.  Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will:

Whenever Christ was preached in the Acts period, it was done by a God-commissioned messenger using God-inspired words with God-given miracles accompanying his actions.  If anyone had dared to preach Christ without His direct orders, he would have received punishment (perhaps even the death penalty) from God immediately.  No one could possibly preach Christ from envy during the time when no one could preach who was not sent.  (Romans 10:14-15)  But once the gospel itself had been sent to the nations (Acts 28:28), suddenly the acts of the apostles were ended and the acts of the apostled gospel began.  Now the message itself was sent, and anyone who wished could preach it for any reason whatsoever, even envy and strife.  This is entirely in synch with the time when the gospel is apostled (sent) to the nations, but entirely out of line when no one could preach who had not been apostled (sent.)

1:30.  Having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.

The entire passage from here takes up the subject of accepting the end of all their glorious gifts and authorities before God that they had enjoyed in the Acts period.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” “but made Himself of no reputation,” “do all things without murmurings and disputing,” and so on and so on.  This argument is to inspire them to accept the end of the Acts period, living out their lives without their powers, being willing to be humbled to the status of mere men again for the glory of God, just as Christ humbled Himself for our salvation to God’s glory.

2:26.  Since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.

For anyone to be sick in the Acts period would have been a sure sign of some terrible sin.  Moreover, if he had repented, such a healer as Paul could have immediately removed this sickness.  But no sin was connected with Epaphroditus, and Paul, the man who in the Acts period could heal with a handkerchief (Acts 19:11-12), was reduced to the same state as we are in when our dear ones get sick: sorrowfully praying for mercy from God.  This proved that Paul too had lost his powers, and goes along with the theme of the book and his exhortation to the Philippians to accept the position they were now in even as he did.

3:5-7.  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.

Some try to argue that Paul counted these loss since he was saved, but this is not so.  For example, he boasted to the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:6, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”  In II Corinthians 11:22, he boasted, “Are they Hebrews?  So am I.  Are they Israelites?  So am I.  Are they the seed of Abraham?  So am I.”  Paul was proud of all these things in the Acts period!  Even “persecuting the church” was good, for “persecuting” actually means “following hard after” or “pursuing,” and speaks in this case not of persecuting someone for evil but pursuing them for their good to bring them into better relationship with God.  All these facts about Paul were things he was proud of in the Acts period, but are things that are worth nothing now in the dispensation of grace when all nations are equal before God.  Thus Paul was willing to count them all as dung, so focused was he on doing the work Christ had in mind for him.  Thus he was living out his exhortation to approve the things that differ.

4:5.  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.

Some would make this to be a statement that Christ’s second coming was at hand, meaning that Paul was still expecting the Kingdom to come soon and thus must have been writing in the Acts period.  This is forcing something into the passage that is not there, however.  That the Lord was at hand did not mean He was about to come, but that He was at hand to observe all their actions, and thus would know whether they were being gentle or not.

4:15.  Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.

This is a reference to events that took place during the Acts period, and demonstrates that these were Acts period believers.  As I have pointed out in the passages I mentioned up until now, however, there is ample evidence that these were Acts period believers who were now living in the dispensation of grace.

4:22.  All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.

Again evidence that Paul was in Rome, placing this book after Acts 28:28.

Thus we see the evidence of the true position of this book.  This is definitely a post-Acts 28:28 book, but it is also definitely written to Acts period believers.  In many ways it is unique, and demonstrates for us the struggle that those believers who had thought the Lord would take control of the world at any moment faced when they found out that He had delayed His government and that all the promises and powers they had received were taken away and postponed to some far future date.  The Lord was concerned for these people, and wrote this book to help them cope.  It is preserved in the Bible for our learning and edification, and is another piece to help us unravel the mystery of the Acts period.