In Philippians 2, Paul uses Jesus' obedience as an example for all who would call Him their Lord. "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus" ( Php. 2:5). He then chronicles Jesus' journey from the Godhead, through humble service unto death, and back to the throne-room of God. It is His example of humble obedience and patient endurance that we are to emulate.
But in verse 6, Paul uses a word that is very hard to translate. Thus we have the following variations:
"thought it not robbery to be equal with God" (KJV).
"did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]" (Amplified).
"did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" (NASB & ESV).
"did not think that being God was something he should hold on to" (NIVR).
"he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to" (NLT).
but the newest version of the NIV (2011) says:
"did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage" (NIV).
I think this last translation hits closer to home. The underlying Greek word is a participle which makes a verb into a noun. Kind of like taking the verb "to play" and making it a noun "player," or maybe even "plaything."
The Greek verb here is "to seize, grasp, rob, acquire." That is, using my advantage to amass more for myself. Hence the idea of grasping at something. When I go to school, I acquire knowledge. When I invest my money, I acquire more wealth. When I go on vacation, I acquire more experiences.
When Paul changes this to a substantive participle, it becomes more literally, "an acquisitive thing." That is, "a state of grasping or seizing or acquiring more for myself."
When people are powerful, they generally use their power to amass more power and wealth for themselves. They use their position of power to their own advantage.
So what did Jesus do with his position of equality with God? Did He act like the power-elites of this world and use it to amass greater wealth and power for Himself? No. In fact, He did the exact opposite. "Rather, he made himself nothing" (Php. 2:7). And here Paul means that, in comparison to His position as equal with God, He went the opposite direction. Rather than amassing for Himself, He poured Himself out for us.
So, let me paraphrase: "In your relationships, have the same attitude as Christ Jesus, who, although he was equal with God, did not use his position to acquire more for himself, but instead, poured himself out, essentially emptying himself of all of his advantage, privilege and power. Thus, although He could have amassed more and more for Himself, He gave all of Himself for us in the very act of incarnation, humble servitude and death on the cross."
As Jesus said in Mark's Gospel: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45).
If we are to emulate Jesus, we will put to death our own ambition in order to become the humble servants of God and of His people.